Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Know Your Enemy: Harvard

It's time to get familiar with the teams RPI and its fans should already be the most familiar with - the ECAC teams, which the Engineers will play twice each during the league schedule. Today's entry represents the first team the Tute will face off against for league points - and if you blink this year, you're going to miss them, because both games against one of the oldest teams in the nation will take place almost right away.

Harvard

Nickname: Crimson
Location: Cambridge, MA
Founded: 1636
Conference: ECAC (Ivy League)
National Championships: 1 (1989)
Last NCAA Appearance: 2006
Last Frozen Four: 1994
Coach: Ted Donato (10th season)
2012-13 Record: 10-19-3 (6-14-2 ECAC, 12th place)
Series: Harvard leads, 47-36-5
First Game: December 27, 1951 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: February 1, 2013 (Troy, NY)
Last HU win: November 10, 2012 (Boston, MA)

2013-14 games: October 29, 2013 (Troy, NY); November 1, 2013 (Boston, MA)

Key players: D John Caldwell, sr.; D Danny Fick, sr.; D Dan Ford, sr.; G Raphael Girard, sr.; F Colin Blackwell, jr.; F Tommy O'Regan, jr.; F Petr Placek, jr.; F Kyle Criscuolo, so.; F Greg Gozzo, so.; F Brian Hart, so.; F Jimmy Vesey, so.; D Kevin Guiltinan, fr.; F Sean Malone, fr.; D Victor Newell, fr.; D Wiley Sherman, fr.; F Devin Tringale, fr.

Key losses: F Alex Fallstrom, F Luke Greiner, F Marshall Everson, D Danny Biega, D Brendan Rempel, F Conor Morrison, F Max Everson, G Stephen Michalek, D Patrick McNally

Previous KYE installments:
The Engineers' two games against the Crimson are practically back to back - they are Tuesday and Friday of the same week, and represent the team's first two ECAC games of the season. The Tuesday game will be RPI's first ever ECAC league contest to take place in the month of October.

Harvard is a hurting team, there's no doubt about it, but they're also a team that has more than a few question marks flying around it, not the least of which relate to the cheating scandal which rocked the school in 2012. Four players left the team - and the school - last season in December. Two, Patrick McNally and Max Everson, appeared in games last season for the Crimson.

Their status is kind of up in the air. Both McNally and Everson will have used up their sophomore season of eligibility due to appearing last season, but an Ivy League rule, according to the Harvard Crimson newspaper, seems to indicate that if these players return to school, they will be ineligible to compete this year and would have to wait until 2014-15 to suit up again.

Before December, perhaps not coincidentally, the Crimson seemed to be doing kind of OK. Nationally ranked in the preseason, they started the year off 4-3-0, including wins over Cornell and RPI (albeit against a shorthanded RPI team that was going through a "message sending" game). But after a 20-day layover between a 1-0 loss at Colgate in November and a 2-2 tie at Merrimack in December, Harvard was just plain awful.

Following their 4-1 win at Cornell on November 16, the Crimson went 1-13-2, scoring three goals just twice during that 16 game stretch and allowing three or more 13 times in a row. The Harvard power play during the team's 3-0 loss at RPI on February 1 was bad on an epic level, resulting in easy kills for the Engineers.

All of it combined to place Harvard in last place in the ECAC for the first time ever. To make matters worse, the team now loses its top two scorers from last season, Fallstrom and Greiner, one of its top goal scorers in Marshall Everson, and two top defensemen in Biega and Rempel.

Fortunately for the Crimson, there's a definite youth movement on in Cambridge. While the losses of solid talent in Max Everson and McNally to the scandal hurt, there is lots of young talent on hand led by Vesey, whose 11 goals tied Marshall Everson for tops on the team last year as a freshman despite missing time for the World Junior Championships. Hart matched Vesey with 18 points on the year and paced the team in assists.

Harvard's incoming class of freshmen boasts talent as well, led by a pair of 2013 draft picks with Sherman and Malone. As long as Vesey and Hart get a little help offensively - probably from names like Criscuolo, O'Regan, and Blackwell, the Crimson will not be the pushovers they were last season.

Defensively, having three seniors on the blueline is big, but Girard is going to have to be more solid in net than he was last year in his first go-round as the top choice netminder. He had fared much better as a regularly-used second option during his sophomore season, if his numbers can get closer to those, it'll keep the Crimson in more games that under similar circumstances, they were way out of last year.

Merrick Madsen, a highly touted goaltender, arrives in 2014, which may dovetail with the potential return of Michalek, which would present a very daunting goaltending duo - just a little more evidence that while Harvard's down, they're not likely to stay there for long.

All of this adds up to a net benefit to the Engineers that both Harvard games will take place at the start of the season. A team that fell as far as Harvard last year pretty much always takes some time within a season to get themselves up. It will be important for RPI to strike quickly in both games and keep Vesey and Hart bottled up, but these should still be two games that the Engineers should be favored in.

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