Thursday, December 3, 2009

View From the Booth: Crimson drop two in two different ways

Harvard hockey skated against Dartmouth and Brown on Sunday and Tuesday, and dropped their tilt against the Big Green 6-2 and their meeting with the Bears 4-1. The two results are disappointing for different reasons, which we explore after the jump. Read on to get our five thoughts, as well as some Canadian national team news regarding Louis Leblanc.


1. Out-executed by Dartmouth on Sunday, and out-lasted by Brown on Tuesday - the Crimson found two different ways to fall in a pair of games against their Ivy brethren. Dartmouth came out fast and physical on Sunday afternoon, and the Crimson, sans the injured Louis Leblanc, could not keep up. Captain Alex Biega called the team's loss "embarrassing" and "atrocious," and head coach Ted Donato pegged the loss as the weakest effort of the Crimson all season. On Tuesday night, the Brown Bears stuck to their strategy and knocked in the first goal off a bad bounce. From that point on, Brown conceded large swaths of ice to the Crimson to protect the net of goaltender Michael Clemente, and their compact defensive strategy frustrated the Crimson attack. The Brunos gave up 43 shots on net, but many were long-distance efforts that Clemente and his defensemen could play out of danger quickly. New head coach Brendan Whittet adopted an identical game plan that former skipper Roger Grillo employed successfully last March in the ECAC playoffs, and despite plenty of solid chances in front of net through all three periods, the Crimson couldn't find a way to score the equalizer. For those keeping score at home, in three career games against Harvard, Brown sophomore goalie Michael Clemente has a 3-0-0 record, .992 save percentage, and a 0.33 goals against average. Ouch.

2. While Brown goalie Mike Clemente was turned on his head for much of Tuesday night's action, at the other end of the ice the Crimson goaltending corps turned in another pedestrian performance. Junior Kyle Richter finished with 29 saves on 31 shots, one of his better nights of the season. But neither Richter or fellow junior Ryan Carroll has found the form of previous seasons so far in this year's campaign. Ryan Carroll was one of the best goalies in all of college hockey in the final stretch of last season, and two seasons ago Kyle Richter dominated in the first half of the season, backstopped the Crimson to the ECAC Championship game, and for his efforts was named the ECAC's top goaltender. For the Crimson to beat the top teams in the ECAC, they will need either Richter or Carroll to find their lost form. Harvard's leaky blueline is to blame for much of the Crimson's defensive woes, but the goaltending has also not been up to the standards of seasons past.

3. Despite the dismal record thus far for the Crimson, they've turned in some excellent offensive games with a young but skilled group of forwards. The primary offensive drivers thus far have been just a couple lines - Michael Biega, Louis Leblanc, and Alex Killorn forming the West Island Connection, and more recently a line composed of P.O. Michaud, Daniel Moriarty, and Conor Morrison. But with Leblanc and power-play cog Marshall Everson both out recently with injuries, the Crimson have been unable to get any offensive punch from their bottom six forwards. Tuesday night's third and fourth lines had produced a total of one goal on the season, and gave Brown a chance to focus on matching up defensively against the offensively-oriented top lines centered by Doug Rogers and Alex Fallstrom. To get past defensively-minded teams like Brown and Dartmouth, they'll need more secondary scoring from players like Luke Greiner, Eric Kroshus, and others.

4. The Crimson have played a total of 10 games so far: eight ECAC tilts and two non-conference games. In ECAC play, they've totaled four points from a win and two ties, which is good for ninth place in the current standings. Every team, however, holds at least one game in hand on the Crimson, including Union and Colgate, both of whom have played just four ECAC games. With 14 conference games remaining for Harvard, there's plenty of time to right the ship, but the road to a solid conference record is made steeper by their slow start.

5. It was most obvious in the third period against Brown that right now the Harvard Crimson are hurt most at the moment by a lack of confidence. A winless November and a 0-4-1 home mark have left the Crimson searching for a consistent and defensively-sound style of play, and despite pouring shots in on Brown's net, the Crimson couldn't catch a break to give them a second goal and some much-needed confidence. But fortunately for Harvard, only two games remain in December - next Wednesday, Dec. 9 against Boston College, and Dec. 29 against Quinnipiac. Those two lengthy stretches away from competition give head coach Ted Donato and his staff the chance to hit the restart button on the season, and find a way to win before they get back to full-time hockey in January.


On a brighter note, Harvard freshman forward Louis Leblanc, who has missed the last two games with injury, has been invited to tryouts for Team Canada in advance of the 2010 IIHF World Junior Championship at the end of December. Leblanc was one of three college hockey players invited to the camp, and one of fourteen first-round picks in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft that composes the 36-man tryout roster. If healthy for the training camp Dec. 12-16, the Montreal native stands a good chance of making the team, given his strong performances for Team Canada in other junior-level tournaments and his fast start for the Crimson (8 GP, 3g, 6a). Leblanc will not miss any Harvard games due to the camp, and if he does make the squad, he will miss just one Harvard game - Dec. 29 at home against Quinnipiac.

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