After two disappointing nine win seasons, the Harvard Crimson men’s hockey team will be looking to make it to Atlantic City for the ECAC Championship and try to earn a spot in the NCAA tournament. Around the league, the coaches and media do not favor the Crimson’s chances, as Harvard was picked to finish 7th by the league’s coaches and 10th by the ECAC Media Writers and Broadcasters. The Crimson certainly have some question marks surrounding them, but experience combined with the across-the-board drop in talent afflicting the ECAC this season gives Crimson faithful a reason to be optimistic.
(Editor's Note: The remainder of the article follows after the jump.)
Strengths: For the first time in recent memory, the Crimson will have no freshmen cracking the lineup on offense, and nine of their fourteen forwards will be upperclassmen. The sophomore forwards will be expected to make a jump forward in their play, and exciting playmaker Alex Fallstrom and talented goal scorer Conor Morrison should benefit from having played a full season of college hockey. The Crimson will also be strong in the crease, with senior Kyle Richter, a former Dryden Award winner for best goaltender in the ECAC, and senior Ryan Carroll providing a one-two punch in net. If either or both can consistently find the form they showed in their spectacular sophomore seasons, the Crimson will steadily climb up the standings over teams lacking goaltending talent.
Weaknesses: Despite some talent on the back line, including senior Captain Chris Huxley, the blue line for the Crimson will feature some new faces, and this inexperience at the back could cause a few hiccups for the Crimson along the way. Along with Huxley, the regulars include the experienced Ryan Grimshaw and Danny Biega, but players like Pete Starrett and Brendan Rempel, who saw limited action last year, will be thrown in this year, along with a few new freshmen. Unfortunately for the Crimson, they can ill afford any growing pains in the opening stretch, as the opening three weekends see Harvard play five teams in the ECAC that will have an extra month of playing time under their belt, due to limitations placed on Harvard and other Ivy League programs about when the season can start. Two of these teams, Union and RPI, are considered the upper echelon of the ECAC and will be difficult opponents to face in the opening weekend, and Harvard will also need to make the seven-hour trip to the North Country, where the Crimson have not earned a win since November 2007. Lastly, the Crimson will need to find a more consistent goal scoring effort from its talented forward corps. The departure of last year’s leading scorer, Louis Leblanc, who signed this summer with the Montreal Canadiens and is currently playing in the QMJHL for the Montreal Juniors, is a worrisome sign for the Crimson, and Harvard forwards like Alex Killorn and Michael Biega will need to increase their scoring output, and get contributions from the players around them. The loss of Leblanc, combined with the graduation of Doug Rogers, also hurts the Crimson’s depth up the middle, as the two natural centers remaining are Colin Moore and P.O. Michaud, both of whom missed time with injuries last year. The Crimson will likely move a few wingers over to play center, likely not helping their terrible face-off percentage that they had last season. Harvard also had the 39th ranked power play (out of 58 teams) and 43rd ranked penalty kill; Harvard special teams needs to improve drastically if they are to compete.
Key Departures: Louis Leblanc, C (Professional Contract); Alex Biega, D (Graduation); Chad Morin, D (Graduation); Doug Rogers, C (Graduation)
New Arrivals: Raphael Girard, G; Danny Fick, D; Dan Ford, D; John Caldwell, D; Connor Riley, G
Rest of the ECAC: If there’s any team considered the runaway favorite, it has to be the Yale Bulldogs, unanimously picked by the coaches, and almost unanimously by the media, to take their third straight Cleary Cup as regular season champions. Union and Cornell, as per last season, seem to be their strongest competition, though Union loses talented scorer Mario Vallery-Trabucco to graduation and Cornell loses several top scorers in Colin Greening, Riley Nash, and Blake Gallagher, along with top goaltender Ben Scrivens. RPI, with a Hobey Baker candidate in Chase Polacek, lost some talent to the NHL with the signing of Brandon Pirri and Jerry D’Amigo. Colgate should also be in the mix for a top four bye. The rest of the league will likely be a tossup involving Dartmouth, Princeton, St. Lawrence, Harvard, Brown, and Clarkson.
Conclusion: Plenty of questions remain for the Crimson, and they likely will be pushing for home ice in the first round, rather than a first round bye. The Crimson are also seeking their first win over a non-ECAC team this season, though a weaker non-conference slate, with Merrimack and Army, should give Harvard at least one of those. If Harvard can quickly find answers to some of the questions surrounding the program the last few years, they might surprise a few around the league.