When Harvard entered the second period of its recent Beanpot third-place game trailing Boston University 1-0 and preparing to kill off a major penalty, the Crimson didn’t panic. Five days later, the Crimson fell behind 1-0 in the opening minute of its game at Cornell, against an energized Big Red team playing its biggest rival and amid a raucous crowd that had just completed its fish-throwing ritual. Once again, no panic.
Harvard stuck together and turned both of those difficult situations into victories. They’ve turned adversity to an advantage and all of a sudden the Crimson have won three of their last four games. This, after getting just four wins in their first 23 games. We probably shouldn’t be surprised. As it turns out, that’s how Harvard has operated all year long.
“It was tough, not getting a lot of the wins that we wanted to get,” senior co-captain Michael Del Mauro said, “but we really said if we stick together as a team, play for each other, ultimately success will start coming our way.”
A mix of chemistry and confidence meant that the Crimson never wavered. Instead of turning off its energy and commitment, Harvard is playing together and playing its best hockey of the season.
“It has been really tough, but one of the things we pride ourselves on is that we’re a strong group of guys,” junior forward Alex Killorn said. “We have a lot of chemistry and we stick together through the thick and thin. It’s brought us this far and it’s allowed us to rebound after those tough few games or tough few stretches.”
After getting two wins in its first three games to start the year, Harvard went on a slide. A pair of seven-game losing streaks was split by a single victory over Army. More than two months separated two ECAC Hockey wins, between a 4-2 win at St. Lawrence on Nov. 12 and a 6-2 home win over Colgate on Jan. 28. Lately, Harvard has put things together. The Crimson are 3-1-1 in their last five with wins over Boston University and Cornell, and a tie against Princeton included in that streak.
The previously-dormant Harvard offense came to life with a three-game streak in which it scored 13 goals. Its power play came to life with three goals in each game against Princeton and Cornell. Overall, the Crimson coaching staff has been pleased with the number of shots and scoring chances that the team has generated over the last month.
“I think at the beginning of the year we were struggling with goals. We put a big focus on just putting pucks on net instead of getting pretty goals. We’ve been getting a lot of rebound goals and stuff like that, so it’s worked out well,” Killorn said.
Killorn ranks second on the team in scoring with 23 points. Sophomore defenseman Danny Biega leads the team with 25 points, and earned INCH National Player of the Week honors.
Senior goalie Ryan Carroll has been in net for each of Harvard’s last three wins, and Harvard’s overall defensive effort has improved. There’s been a commitment to puck protection and keeping things simple that has suited the team well.
Harvard wraps its regular season with home games against Clarkson and St. Lawrence. Its attention will then turn toward the playoffs.
“We know we dug ourselves quite a hole as far as the playoff picture goes, but we’re really not worried about if we finish in X-place or Y-place,” Donato said. “We’re really worried about how we’re playing. We know there’s good teams in our league, but we feel like we can make some noise at the end of the season.”
Once the postseason tournament starts, the records will be wiped clean and it won’t matter how you finished in the standings, just win two games in a weekend and move to the next round.
“We know we have the team to do it, we just haven’t put the pieces together. Coming down the stretch, we feel really good about our chances,” Killorn said. “We’re playing more as a team, getting some greasy goals, things are starting to go our way.”
Recent ECAC Hockey history has shown that even teams that finish at the very bottom of the standings are threats once the playoffs begin. Fans should be wary of Harvard. Even if the Crimson fall behind or lose the first game of a playoff series, it’s pretty clear that they won’t panic and have the ability to bounce back with strong performances. They’ve shown as much in the past month.
FRIES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG
• The INCH Friday Four-cast looks at three of the games with biggest ECAC Hockey playoff implications this weekend.
• Clarkson and Quinnipiac currently hold the seventh and eighth spots in the league standings. They’re tied with 17 points, three more than ninth-place Brown. Clarkson can clinch a top-eight spot and guarantee itself a home-ice spot with just one point this weekend at Harvard and Dartmouth. Quinnipiac can clinch a home-ice spot for the first round with at least two points at Union or Rensselaer. Both teams will hold their spots no matter what, if Brown doesn’t win both of its games.
• There’s disappointing news for Brown, as leading scorer Jack Maclellan is injured and could miss the rest of the year. Senior defenseman Jeremy Russell recently played his 128th career game for the Bears, the most of any player in Brown history. Brown wraps the regular season with home games against Cornell and Colgate.