After its tournament dreams came tumbling down in shocking fashion last March, the Harvard men’s hockey team has high hopes of improving upon the disappointing up-and-down 2008-09 season and making it back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006.
Last year, the team started off strong at 4-2-0, but hit a massive mid-year skid, going 1-12-4 through the middle of the season. The squad turned it around late in the year, finishing the regular season 4-0-2, but was stunned in the first round of the ECAC tournament by conference bottom-dweller Brown, which won two consecutive games at Bright Hockey Center to end Harvard’s season.
It was a strange finish for a team that had made it to the ECAC championship round six times in the last seven seasons, winning three of them.
The Crimson’s aspirations for improvement in 2009-10 rest on the shoulders of junior goalie Kyle Richter, who returns to the team after a one-year absence, and a recruiting class that Inside College Hockey ranked fifth-best in the nation.
At the head of the freshman class is Louis Leblanc, widely considered the best forward recruit in the country. Leblanc was last season’s USHL Rookie of the Year and the 18th pick in the 2009 NHL Draft by his hometown Montreal Canadiens.
“We feel like we’ve added some real offensive potential to our lineup,” Harvard coach Ted Donato ’91 said. “Not only do we think that we’ve added some in the freshman class, we think there’s a lot more potential in some of the guys that were here.”
Among those already here include captain and preseason All-American defenseman Alex Biega—who had 16 assists last year—and senior center Doug Rogers—who led the team with 21 points last season. The duo is a key portion of an offense that returns its top seven leaders in points.
The Biega family earned national attention this season when freshman Danny decided to join his brothers Alex and junior Michael (third on the team with 17 points in ’08-’09) on the Crimson squad. And Alex believes that his brothers can be part of a larger group of Harvard players expected to show improvement this season.
“A lot of players on our team are poised to have breakout years,” Alex Biega says. “They’ve had great summers and have had great training both on the ice and off the ice, and I think with the freshmen, we’ve added a lot of depth.”
Donato hopes that Michael Biega and sophomore Alex Killorn can be two of those breakout players.
“Over the summer, I’ve been working a lot to get a lot faster, which I believe I have,” Michael says. “Hopefully that will help me break out this year and have a good season.”
Donato believes that the combination of an elite freshman class and improvement from his returning core will improve the offensive firepower of a team that finished second-to-last in goals scored in the ECAC last year, and did not have any player in the top 40 in points or plus-minus for the conference.
“We want to get after teams,” Donato says. “We want to be much more aggressive offensively. It looks [like] we’ll be a lot more dangerous. We’ve added—I think—some good speed, skill, and it seems to be mixing in very well with the guys that are returning. I think there’s a lot of reason for optimism as far as what this team can accomplish offensively.”
Another reason for optimism is the return of Richter, who took a leave of absence after winning the Dryden Award as the league’s best goalie as a sophomore in 2007-08, when he lead the ECAC in goals-against average and save percentage.
While he will face stiff competition to keep his old job from returning junior goalie Ryan Carroll—who improved down the stretch last season—Donato says he plans to start Richter to open the year.
No. 5 Cornell To Provide Early Test on RoadFacing two ECAC opponents this weekend, the Crimson men’s hockey team will attempt to replicate last week’s win over Dartmouth. Harvard (1-0, 1-0 ECAC) will face Colgate (2-2-3) tonight and archrival No. 5 Cornell (1-0) on Saturday. The two New York road contests will be the first games away from the Bright Hockey Center this season. Last year, the Crimson went 0-11-5 away from home. With this in mind, the players acknowledge the added challenge of attaining victories this weekend.
Freshman Class Tops ECAC Rankings
Crimson Fights Back To Force Tie
Hockey Faces Rival Cornell
NOTEBOOK: Richter Anchors Defensive Effort in LossKyle Richter kept bending and bending, until he finally broke. The senior goalie did all he could to keep his team in the game, but in the end, the Harvard men’s hockey team was unable to keep up with a high-powered Union attack for most of Friday evening, falling, 2-1, in the team’s season opener at the Bright Hockey Center.
Biega and Men's Hockey Step Up Late in Season