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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Harvard Men's Hockey Season Preview Part I: 2008-09 Recap

With 15 days until the regular season opens in Hanover, N.H., it's time to start our 2009-10 Harvard Men's Hockey preview here on the WHRB Sports Blog. First up is a recap of last year and after the jump you'll find an analysis of 2008-09 along with last year's pluses and minuses, and a look at last year's seniors.

2008-09 RECAP

It was one of the most difficult campaigns in recent years for the Crimson - goaltending questions until the end of the season, a rash of injuries to the defensive corps, and a constantly-shuffling forward rotation that never found their offensive groove in even-strength hockey. The squad finished with a final mark of 9-16-6 (9-7-6 ECAC), but there is far more to take from the 2008-09 season than just the team's disappointing final record.

Things got off to a poor start when Kyle Richter and Jack Christian each did not return for the 2008-09 school year, leaving head coach Ted Donato and the Crimson without the league's top netminder and the Crimson's most physical defenseman. Richter's leave of absence left incoming freshman Matt Hoyle, junior John Riley, and sophomore Ryan Carroll to man the crease - and although Carroll proved a superb goalie in February, the team struggled with the uncertainty in net much of the season. Christian's absence left the Crimson dangerously thin at the blue line, and injuries to fellow defensemen Brian McCafferty, Ian Tallett, and Ryan Grimshaw compounded their problems.

But there were bright spots, highlighted by a post-Beanpot run that saw the Crimson secure the fifth seed in the ECAC with a 4-0-2 finish to the regular season. Special teams were a strength towards the end of the season, with Jimmy Fraser leading an effective penalty kill and Alex Biega directing the power play.

MINUSES

1-12-4: That was the record of the Crimson from Nov. 18, 2008 to Jan. 30, 2009. Nothing seemed to work during that dismal stretch, despite the efforts of head coach Ted Donato to shake things up and get his team in sync offensively. The Crimson went through a difficult mid-season stretch in 2007-08 as well, but it lasted just ten games and their season ended with a hard-fought loss to Princeton in the ECAC Championship game. But in 2008-09, that skid seemed to color the rest of the season, and the Crimson struggled to recover and gain any real momentum before the postseason.

0: The number of goals fifth-seeded Harvard scored against 12th-seeded Brown in the first round of the ECAC tournament at the Bright Hockey Center, en route to a two-game season-ending sweep at the hands of the Bears. Before the playoff series, it seemed as if the Crimson had turned a corner at home, and would at least have a chance of reaching Albany. But instead, the Crimson's season-long offensive woes caught up with them at the worst possible time, and despite a barrage of shots in both games, they could not generate the chances needed to defeat Brown. The Bears swept the Crimson's 2008-09 season right out the door with the upset.

2: The number of six-goal weekends Harvard recorded in 2008-09. A six goal total over two games is a reliable indicator of a solid college hockey offense and usually means there was at least one win in two games - but last season the Crimson struggled mightily to find the net on a consistent basis while playing even-strength hockey. Both six-goal weekends came at home - Nov. 14/15 against Clarkson/St. Lawrence and Feb. 13/14 against Cornell/Colgate. The Crimson's goalscoring issues were at their worst on the road, and the team did not win a game away from the Bright Hockey Center all season - finishing  The team's leading goalscorer, Doug Rogers, didn't score his first goal until Jan. 25 and finished with eight goals in 31 games.

PLUSES

19.2%: Harvard's power play percentage in ECAC play. Although coaches Donato and McCann took a while to find their preferred man-up setup, once they did, things clicked. Alex Biega has as hard a shot as there is in college hockey, and Daniel Moriarty emerged as a scrapper around the net who could put away rebounds and create space for Doug Rogers to work off the half-wall. Harvard's power play accounted for 31 of their 68 total goals, which is a high percentage.

7: The number of underclassmen skaters with at least four goals in 2008-09. That offensive depth bodes well for the Crimson, because while they may have had trouble finding consistent scoring lines over the course of the season, the team's returning depth will give Ted Donato a number of options up front from which to create a couple effective scoring lines. For the Crimson to improve more offensively, however, several players will have to take the leap forward and become double-digit goalscorers.

.933: Ryan Carroll's save percentage over the course of the season. Carroll didn't get a regular season start until the Beanpot consolation game, but played well in that game and got the nod in net for the rest of the season, as the Crimson played their best hockey in February. That outstanding save percentage should be coupled, however, with his 2.31 GAA, which reflects the high number of shots he faced from Crimson opponents.

LOSSES FROM THE CLASS OF 2009

A small class of just four players - forwards Nick Coskren, Steve Rolecek and co-captain Jimmy Fraser, and defenseman and co-captain Brian McCafferty - moves on from the Bright Hockey Center.

Fraser, Rolecek, and Coskren combined to form the starting line for the Crimson for most of the season, almost always going against the opposing team's top line. The three seniors were the best forechecking and defensive line for the Crimson, and especially during the month of February did an outstanding job limiting teams offensively. None of the departing forwards were offensive forces for the Crimson, and they lose just 22% of their offensive production from last season.

It's a testament to McCafferty's determination and toughness that he was able to play most of the season while fighting through knee injuries from December onwards. The departure of the senior class also leaves a defensive void that other players will have to fill, especially with the forecheck. Many of the underclassman struggled to execute an effective forecheck, and so it will be up to players like Colin Moore, Michael Del Mauro and others to prove that the Crimson can bring defensive pressure with their forwards.

COMING NEXT

Tomorrow, Brendan Roche will have a preview of Harvard's incoming class of 2013 - what to expect from all eight freshman and where to look for them on the ice. After that, over the weekend we'll have a complete positional breakdown of the Crimson - with thoughts on potential lines, pairings, and special teams groupings. This is Harvard men's hockey coverage you won't find anywhere else but the WHRB Sports Blog.

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