Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Know Your Enemy: Harvard

Long seated on one of the toastiest coaching seats in the ECAC, Ted Donato finally got the ship righted in Cambridge last season. It wasn't easy - the team did have to fight through a significant amount of adversity during the regular season - but it ended with the Crimson winning their 9th ECAC championship. Still, this is a team that will come into the next season with something still left to prove, and a leading senior who's going to have a chip on his shoulder and a desire to prove it.

Harvard

Nickname: Crimson
Location: Cambridge, MA
Founded: 1636
Conference: ECAC (Ivy League)
National Championships: 1 (1989)
Last NCAA Appearance: 2015
Last Frozen Four: 1994
Coach: Ted Donato (12th season)
2014-15 Record: 21-13-3 (11-8-3 ECAC, 6th place)
Series: Harvard leads, 50-36-6
First Game: December 27, 1951 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: February 1, 2013 (Troy, NY)
Last HU win: December 30, 2014 (Boston, MA)

2015-16 games: November 28, 2015 (South Bend, IN - possible); December 5, 2015 (Troy, NY); February 12, 2015 (Boston, MA)

Key players: D Desmond Bergin, sr.; F Colin Blackwell, sr.; F Kyle Criscuolo, sr.; F Brayden Jaw, sr.; F Jimmy Vesey, sr.; D Clay Anderson, jr.; F Luke Esposito, jr.; F Alexander Kerfoot, jr.; F Sean Malone, jr.; F Tyler Moy, jr.; F Devin Tringale, jr.; F Eddie Ellis, so.; F Seb Lloyd, so.; G Merrick Madsen, so.; D Wiley Sherman, so.; F Ryan Donato, fr.; F Mike Floodstrand, fr.; D Jacob Olson, fr.

Key losses: D Patrick McNally, F Brian Hart, D Max Everson, G Steve Michalek

Previous KYE installments:
If there was one player on the Crimson last season who was more or less indispensable, that would be McNally. His injury mid-season left Harvard in a pretty bad place, and upon his return to the lineup, it was like flipping a switch, and the Crimson were again a force to be reckoned with.

After easily dispatching Brown in the first round of the ECAC playoffs, Harvard faced off against arch-rivals Yale in a battle royale that ended with a goal from Vesey in the second overtime of Game 3, sending the Crimson to Lake Placid, where they knocked off favorites Quinnipiac and Colgate to claim the championship and sending Harvard to the NCAAs for the first time in nearly a decade. There they fell to eventual Frozen Four participants Omaha, but the seed had certainly been sowed - Harvard were no longer pushovers.

Coming into this season, it had been possible that Harvard wasn't going to be losing anyone at all. McNally, Everson, and Michalek missed the vast majority of their sophomore seasons after getting caught up in the 2012 cheating scandal at the school, their applications for a waiver to compete again this coming year were denied. Hart, meanwhile, leaves Harvard for the NHL with one year of eligibility remaining. Those are four important losses for the Crimson, but there's no denying the strength of what does return, along with the possible strength of what should be one of the most talented incoming freshman classes in the ECAC.

Vesey was a Hobey Baker finalist last season, the only one from the Hobey Hat Trick that will be returning to campus this year after BU's Jack Eichel and North Dakota's Zane McIntyre both signed NHL deals. Vesey, a Nashville draft pick, seemed likely to follow the other two members of the Hobey trifecta out the door, but he quickly made the decision that he would return for his senior season. His 32 goals led the entire nation in that category last season, and his 58 points is by far the most of any returning player in the country.

Criscuolo, Moy, and Kerfoot all return as major point producers as well, each notching over 25 points last season, and added to the mix are Floodstrand and Donato - the latter the coach's son - who should both be solid contributors right out of the gate. There's not a lot to dislike for Harvard on offense.

The question comes more on defense, where the Crimson have a pair of options in net. Madsen saw just 43 minutes of playing time last season, but the Flyers draft pick may have some serious competition in Michael Lackey, the freshman goaltender arriving from being a top choice for the USNTDP U-18 team last year. The losses of McNally and Everson on the blue line are also slightly troublesome, but there remains some solid upperclass leadership in the back with Bergin and Anderson, and expect Olson to provide a boost as well.

Overall, Harvard isn't necessarily a team that's going to be an obvious choice to be tops in the ECAC, but they absolutely have got to be a part of the discussion. They do a lot of things very well, especially when it comes to physical play. Their ability to adequately replace the four key losses from last season will dictate how competitive the Crimson are even more than how much superstar Vesey will bring back to the table.

The last couple of seasons, RPI has had to play Harvard pretty much right out of the ECAC gate, playing both games relatively early in the schedule. This time around, they won't meet up until December unless they get to preview each other on the second night of the Shillelagh Tournament in Indiana (although that game won't likely matter for a great deal unless it's the championship). The way things are lining up, the RPI defense is going to have to come to play against Harvard or it isn't going to matter whether the Crimson defense is up to snuff. Finding ways to contain probably the best player in the country and keep the puck out of the net will be paramount to success no matter what.

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