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I’ve never been to Ithaca. I hear it’s gorges.
But on Saturday night, I had to double-check my GPS when I walked into the middle of the third period of the Harvard-Cornell men's hockey game. I was greeted by a sea of Waldos. Big Red-and-white-striped fans must have occupied a solid three-fourths of the seats at the Bright Hockey Center.
Why was the Harvard presence so weak? The most obvious answer is that the Crimson men’s hockey team (and Cornell’s squad, for that matter) has reduced itself to irrelevancy this season. But that’s not the reason I—and I suspect many other Harvard students—avoided the first 50 minutes of a classic hockey rivalry.
I had been busy watching a meaningful game—a game that carried real postseason implications, a game that would shape a Crimson team’s fate for the remainder of the season. I’m writing, of course, about the Harvard men’s basketball team’s 69-57 triumph over Princeton.
Ivy League basketball and ECAC hockey are two totally different animals. In Ancient Eight hoops, every game counts. The regular season is essentially a big round-robin tournament that decides which team goes to the Big Dance in March.
Comparatively, the ECAC regular season means jack squat. Sure, regular season success satiates a hungry fan base and provides helpful postseason positioning. But beyond that, a first-place finish or a 12th-place finish does not guarantee a team’s final fate. Just ask 11th-seeded Brown, which reached the ECAC semifinals in 2010, or sixth-seeded Harvard, which won it all in 2004. All 12 teams have a shot in the ECAC Tournament.
Few sports leagues offer a bottom-feeder the opportunity to renovate a season in just six games. In recent years, the Harvard men’s hockey team has embraced this opportunity. In 2013, the Crimson will have to welcome the postseason with open arms like never before.
The bottom line: The season is not lost. It can be saved.
The Crimson’s recent play is indicative of a team preparing for another last-minute push. After an eight-game losing streak, Harvard has been unbeaten in its last four, winning two and tying two. The Crimson has not necessarily found a way to win, but it has found a way not to lose.
In the past couple of weeks, it seems that Harvard’s senior players have realized that they have one final chance to rewrite their legacy.
“We [seniors] want to make an impression or at least go out on top as much as we can,” senior forward Marshall Everson told me the day before the Crimson’s Beanpot consolation game versus Boston University.
In that game, seniors scored six of Harvard’s seven goals in a 7-4 win. Four days later, seniors contributed the Crimson’s first three goals in a 4-1 victory over Colgate.
Underperformances from Harvard’s veterans have characterized much of the Crimson’s struggles this year. But Everson, Luke Greiner, Alex Fallstrom, and Danny Biega appear to be righting the ship.
Injuries and sudden departures have also plagued Harvard this season, but things are starting to look up in the personnel department. Most notably, rookie Kyle Criscuolo has started to hit his playmaking stride after returning from the disabled list at the beginning of the month.
The freshman center has recorded five assists in the last five games. With Criscuolo out of the lineup, the Crimson posted a 1-9-0 record. With Criscuolo in, Harvard has gone 6-6-3.
Expectations are a funny thing. ECAC preseason polls picked Cornell and Harvard to finish second and third, respectively. The two squads now sit at the bottom of the conference.
Harvard’s underachievement has made this regular season one of the most painful in program history. Can Crimson coach Ted Donato ’91 possibly gain absolution for this year’s circus? If Harvard continues to improve and builds off of its recent postseason surprises, I think he can.
Fans will not remember Harvard’s 2010-11 campaign for the Crimson’s lackluster 7-14-1 regular season record. They will remember that Harvard fought within an overtime goal of advancing to the ECAC semis. The 2011-12 season isn’t memorable for Harvard’s record-setting frustration in the “ties” department during the regular season. Fans will remember the Crimson’s run to the ECAC finals.
It’s going to take a lot to erase the memory of this regular season, but Harvard has to take comfort in the fact that there remains something to play for next month. At this point, the ECAC Tournament is the light at the end of a long, dark, and rather meaningless tunnel.
—Staff Writer Michael D. Ledecky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mdledecky.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: Feb. 20, 2013
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the date on which the Harvard men's hockey team tied Cornell, 2-2. In fact, that game occurred on Saturday, not Friday.
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