Friday, January 15, 2010

Marking the midway point: Harvard Men's Hockey looks to finish strong

Harvard Men's Hockey has now skated just over half of their schedule (15 of 29 regular season games), so let's take a look at the team now that we're halfway through the season. After the jump, we've got your three stars of the first half of the season, and five thoughts on the first 15 games for the Crimson, along with some NHL Draft news and notes.

1. LOUIS LEBLANC - F (6g, 6a)
The rookie has consistently shown this season why he was the 2009 first-round choice of his hometown Canadiens. His stats through 12 games are solid - he's near the top of the ECAC in rookie points per game with 1.20 per game, but Leblanc's game is far more than just goals and assists. He  makes quick, smart decisions with the puck and the grinding, physical style of play in the ECAC has not daunted him. He's shown a gift for agitating opposing teams (and leads the Crimson in penalty minutes) and his speed and relentless puck pursuit have frustrated many opposing defensemen. He's been at the top of his game when centering Michael Biega and Alex Killorn. Another indicator of Leblanc's effectiveness both ways is the fact that he leads the Crimson in plus/minus rating with a +3. Below, you'll find Leblanc speaking about his play with his linemates in recent games.

2. DANIEL MORIARTY - F (4g, 7a)
The rugged sophomore forward has continued to excel after being named last season's Rookie of the Year for the Crimson. Moriarty's game is predicated on cycling in the offensive zone and establishing a net-front presence, which he has done very effectively again this year. That is in part due to his hard work in practice and off the ice - he's usually the first skater on the ice for a practice or skate and the last off. Moriarty has become a key presence on the power play down low, as he's scored three of his four goals so far on the power play.

3. CHAD MORIN - D (2g, 2a)
Morin might not be the team's top defenseman (that honor belongs to Alex Biega, with his younger brother Danny not far behind) but he's become a shutdown force this season and he's playing the best hockey of his career in Crimson over the last six weeks. Coach Ted Donato has singled Morin out several times after recent games for his efforts, and with a young team, the senior has established himself as a veteran who can be counted on to complement the more offensively-minded game of his current partner Alex Biega. The stay-at-home approach has been complemented with some offense in recent games, including a two goal night on Jan. 8 at Minnesota. For the Crimson to make a run up the ECAC standings, Morin will need to answer the bell against the ECAC's top offensive lines in coming weeks. If he continues to play with the confidence he's displayed in recent games, Morin should be up to the task.


1. The recurring theme of the first half of the season has been Harvard finding its team identity. Early on, the Crimson had a high-flying offense but were far too loose in their own zone. The failure of that identity became clear early on in the season as they coughed up consecutive third-period leads at Colgate and Cornell on Nov. 6 and 7. So Ted Donato and his staff went back to the drawing board, and that led to a tough few weeks as the Crimson worked to integrate the talented freshman class and become a defensively sound team. Since late November, we've seen far more solid efforts defensively, but the offense became inconsistent. Finally, on on Dec. 29 against Quinnipiac and Jan. 12 against Yale, the Crimson put together two complete games - good offensive production from their top offensive line of Leblanc, M. Biega and Killorn, solid special teams, and good goaltending from Ryan Carroll.

2. One position that was not viewed as a question mark entering the season was in net - but until the last few games, it was often a weakness of the Crimson. Kyle Richter, winner of the 2007-08 Dryden Award as the ECAC's top netminder, was returning to Harvard after a year away. Behind Richter it would be Ryan Carroll, who was coming off a superb stretch of play last February that lifted the Crimson to the fifth seed in the ECAC. But in the early going, both goalies struggled to establish the form that they had in seasons past. Now both seem to be rounding into form - Richter held the high-flying Quinnipiac attack to one goal on 37 shots, and Carroll held the similarly explosive Yale offense to two goals on 37 shots. Now who will it be going forward? Below is audio of Coach Donato's answer to that question, posed after Harvard beat Yale on Jan. 12.

3. Some players and lines are still looking for productive connections still halfway through the season. Doug Rogers has a nine-game cold streak with no points since notching a goal and an assist against Princeton on Nov. 14. When paired with freshman wingers Alex Fallstrom and Marshall Everson, Rogers was productive in the first month of the season, but since working with various other combinations, he's struggled to find chemistry with other linemates. Now the coaching staff has reunited him with former linemate Matt McCollem, who is slowly returning to full speed from serious offseason surgery, but it remains to be seen if that might be an effective combination. While the line of Killorn-Leblanc-M. Biega seems to have found their attacking groove over the last pair of games, the Crimson will need more than one scoring line to put together a winning streak.

4. The greatest weakness of the Crimson hasn't been a single player, zone on the ice, or position - it's been the third period. Harvard has skated well through the first forty minutes most games, but in the third period most teams have out-skated, out-shot, and out-scored the Crimson by a wide margin. This was a concern from the first game of the season onwards, when Harvard let Dartmouth back into a blowout with two late goals. Including that game, opponents have outshot the Crimson by an average of four shots in the third period, and outscored 28-10 over that time. In the four games since the break, Harvard has a 2-2 record but has still been outscored 7-2 in the final frame in those games. If the Crimson hope to get things going in the ECAC, they will need to move away from relying on Carroll or Richter to hold their opponents at bay for the final 20 minutes, and play a puck possession game when they have a lead.

5. It has been a difficult first half of the season for Harvard in many respects - the ten-game losing streak, injuries, and lack of consistency have all combined to make the first fifteen games a frustrating stretch. But coach Ted Donato has repeatedly cited the team's willingness to keep working for wins as the principal reason the season is not lost yet. Through all that adversity, Harvard has a 3-5-2 ECAC mark - which puts them in eighth place less than halfway through their 22-game conference slate. So if the Crimson make a run, beginning with Dartmouth at home on Sunday, they're in fine position for a favorable seed in the ECAC tournament.

Freshman defenseman Danny Biega was tabbed as the 31st best North American skater in NHL Central Scouting's midterm rankings. CSS Regional scout Bill Eggleston told the New England Hockey Journal:
Harvard defenseman and Quebec native Danny Biega, the captain of Salisbury School’s New England Division 1 championship team last spring, impressed enough to be the 31st prospect on the list, and he could be destined for a rise between now and when the final rankings come out in May.

“I really like him a lot,” Eggleston said, noting that the margin of Biega just missing the first-round cut was razor thin. “Danny’s a strong skater, moves the puck quickly, and is also an excellent puck retriever who doesn’t just take the puck in his own end and then throw it off the glass like a lot of players do. He’s very good at making that soft clear off the boards so that his teammates can take it up the ice.”

Biega has displayed a tendency at times to defer on the ice to older brother Alex when the two are on the ice together, something he wouldn’t likely do with any other player, but Eggleston feels that the youngest of the three Biega brothers playing for the Crimson has a bright future ahead of him and will only get better.

1 comment:

  1. Danny Biega has been extremely solid for the Crimson this season. He consistently makes the right decision on the breakout.