Last weekend’s results could have hardly come as a surprise to followers of the Harvard Crimson this season. A road trip to Colgate and Cornell, both stacked in the top-four of the ECAC Hockey standings, yielded two points. On a pair of 2-2 ties. Those deadlocks were the seventh and eighth ties of the season for Harvard, and they’ve only played 18 games (4-6-8).
So, while the results were somewhat typical, a deeper examination reveals something that hasn’t come with as much regularity as five extra minutes of hockey following the third period. Harvard’s effort Saturday night at Cornell, nationally-ranked in the top-10 and standing atop ECAC Hockey, was one of the best start-to-finish performances of the season for a team that has struggled with consistent efforts throughout games.
“I like our character. Our guys keep working, they keep coming back. We’ve had some periods over the season and periods of games where we’ve been bend-don’t-break, but I really feel like we’re getting better and better as the season goes on,” Harvard coach Ted Donato said following the come-from-behind tie at Cornell.
“I think five-on-five our scoring can improve, and I think the entire game, our whole effort. Tonight we felt that we played very competitively for the entire game. I think our guys really battled and we were able to play the way we wanted to play for 65 minutes.”
Harvard has played seven of its last eight games against nationally-ranked opponents. Lining up against the likes of Union, Boston University, North Dakota and Cornell has prepared the Crimson for what they’ll have to face down the stretch. They’ve come from behind to record ties against North Dakota and Union, as well as against Rensselaer in recent weeks due to a steady demeanor in times of adversity.
“We just concentrate on not being too high or too low,” forward Marshall Everson said. “Throughout the year we’ve had these situations where we’ve been down maybe going into the third and you just have to have that will and determination to get back into the game. I think the fact that we’ve been able to do that multiple times this year shows the character of the guys in the locker room.”
Everson is part of the nation’s top power-play unit, and Harvard is clicking at better than 33 percent on the year. The unit’s key to success is a combination of a number of factors. There are some set plays and the groups are able to pre-scout opponents, but the real factor is quick puck movement and chemistry among talented players that allows them to adapt to whatever penalty-killing they face. In seven of its last eight games, the Crimson power play has scored on its very first power-play opportunity of the game. That’s a nice way to start.
Harvard’s penalty killing has improved in recent games, but the five-on-five goal differential is an area that Harvard will focus on.
The difference between wins and losses, or wins and ties, has been a steady effort over the duration of the contest. Everson said his team is starting to understand what it takes.
“We just have to make sure that we’re consistent. I think tonight was one of the first games where we played a whole 60, 65 minutes,” he said. “If we really focus on that, from the drop of the puck to the last buzzer, if everyone’s giving 100 percent, doing their jobs, we can start to look at the goals we set at the beginning of the year.”
With some of the building blocks in place, and some confidence in signs of improvement, the treading-water nature of Harvard’s season to date leaves the Crimson within sight of long-range objectives. Harvard plays six of its last nine conference games at home, and has already played its four games this season against league front-runners Cornell and Union. Harvard is just two points behind third-place Quinnipiac heading into this weekend.
“I take some satisfaction in the fact that I know that we can reach another level, and even though we’ve had a lot of ties, we’ve stayed within reach of the pack and at this point we control our own destiny,” Donato said. “I think Cornell and Union have created a little bit of separation but I think everyone else is in the mix here. A lot of the teams that we’re competing against we have a chance to play against coming up.”
FRIES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG
• We’ll always encourage you to get out to the rinks and catch the action in person, and so this weekend we’ll also encourage you to set your television recording devices as two ECAC Hockey contests will be nationally televised on Friday. Cornell-Colgate will air on CBS Sports Network and Harvard-Yale will be shown on NBC Sports Network. Keep in mind that both games are 7:30 starts, a half-hour later than the typical starting time.
• St. Lawrence has been without head coach Joe Marsh for the season to date as he addresses some health concerns, and he confirmed Thursday in a report in the Watertown Daily Times that he won’t return to the bench this season. Saints assistants Mike Hurlbut and Greg Carvel have handled the coaching duties.
• A stick tap to RPI for its recent two-win weekend at Brown and Yale. It’s a team that has possibly deserved better results, but the Engineers’ effort never wavered despite losing streaks of eight games and six games earlier this season.
• Harvard isn’t the only team in the league with a potent power play. A total of 19 Division I teams are converting 20 percent or better of power-play opportunities this season, and six of them play in ECAC Hockey – Harvard (33.8%), Union (25.0%), Yale (23.6%), Princeton (22.4%), Cornell (21.4%), and St. Lawrence (20.2%).
• If you can’t wait until the weekend of March 16-18 for the ECAC Hockey Championship weekend in Atlantic City, the Boardwalk Hall venue will host this weekend’s AHL All-Star Classic, with a skills competition Sunday followed by the game on Monday. Those events will be shown on regional sports networks throughout the country. Former Brown goalie Yann Danis is on the Western Conference roster along with ex-RPI forward Brandon Pirri. Former Clarkson defenseman Mark Borowiecki has recently been named as a replacement on the Eastern Conference roster.