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Friday, October 26, 2012

WHRB Men's Hockey Season Preview: Hit 'Em Where It Hurts


The Harvard Crimson men’s hockey team enters the 2012-2013 campaign with high hopes. Last year, the Crimson set a school record for ties on their way to a 13-10-11 overall record and a third place finish in the conference. They extended this surprise run to the ECAC Championship game, where they lost a third period lead to Union. The new season finds the Crimson ranked 3rd in the conference in the ECAC Hockey Media Association Preseason Poll and 17th in the nation in the USCHO.com rankings. The men won an exhibition last Friday against McGill by the score of 5-1 and open the regular season in earnest this Saturday against Bentley at home.

Forwards

Last year’s offense was prolific, leading the nation at almost 3.5 goals per game for the first half of the season before cooling off slightly and finishing at a clip of 3.12 goals per game and 27% conversion on the power play. The Crimson lose star forward Alex Killorn, who led the team with 23 goals and 46 points, to graduation. Also gone is Eric Kroshus, sixth on the team with 19 points, and David Valek, whose late-season scoring spree was critical in helping Harvard reach the ECAC finals.

However, the Crimson still return 58% of their goal-scoring. Marshall Everson, who finished second to Killorn among forwards in goals and points after a spectacular second half, will again play on the top line with Alex Fallstrom, whose health is always a question but whose talent never is. The team’s top returning center, Luke Greiner, had a breakout junior year with 9 goals. Colin Blackwell and Tommy O’Regan head the sophomore class.

If Harvard is to score as often as it did last year, however, it will need strong contributions from its freshmen. If the exhibition game against McGill is any indication, this will not be a problem. The Crimson’s top-rated recruiting class is headlined by Brian Hart and Jimmy Vesey, 2nd and 3rd round NHL draft picks respectively. Vesey set a scoring record in the EJHL with 91 points last year in 45 games and dominated the exhibition against McGill. Hart brings both size and speed to the ice and was the USHR prep player of the year as a senior at Philips Exeter, scoring 68 points in 29 games. The forwards are rounded out by Kyle Criscuolo, Greg Gozzo, and Brayden Jaw, all of whom should expect fourth line playing time at the least.

Defensemen

The Crimson look to be much improved on defense after a frustrating season that saw them allow 2.8 goals per game and only kill 79% of penalties. Danny Biega returns for his senior year as Harvard 120th captain, replacing Ryan Grimshaw. Biega was second on the team with 35 points and earned numerous season honors as Harvard’s best all around blue-liner, also leading the team with a plus/minus of +14. He will begin the season paired with junior Dan Ford, who contributed 15 points of his own last year but is more than capable of playing the stay-at-home role if needed.

Offensive wonder Patrick McNally returns after one of the best rookie seasons in all of Divison I last year, as does Max Everson, who also played every game as a freshman and led Harvard in blocked shots. Brendan Rempel and Danny Fick, who split the season almost equally after Rempel went down with an injury, are also returning. Mark Luzar, who missed all of his freshman year due to injury, looks to log his first minutes in a Harvard uniform. The Crimson have one freshman defenseman, Desmond Bergin, who appears to be as offensively-minded as McNally was last year and who should see third-pairing minutes.

Goaltenders

At this time last year, Raphael Girard and Steve Michalek had one career start between them. Now with good experience under their belts, both goalies look to improve on what was an inconsistent but promising 2011-2012 season. Michalek won the job as a freshman before conference play began, but a combination of spotty defense and soft goals led to a 7-7-8 record, 3.19 goals against average and .895 save percentage that belie his athleticism and resilience in net. Girard reclaimed the starting role at the end of the season and was spectacular, stopping 129 of 136 shots from Yale in the conference quarterfinals and only allowing two goals against Union in the final when the Dutchmen could easily have had six. He finished the season with a 6-3-3 record, 2.14 goals against average and  .933 save percentage, leading all ECAC goaltenders in the playoffs with a .947 save percentage and 1.81 goals against average.

This year, Girard will most likely begin the season as the starter, but head coach Ted Donato has been eager to platoon his goaltenders depending on who is playing well. The seventh and final Crimson freshman, Peter Traber, is unlikely to see any time behind two goaltenders trying to build on last season and secure the starting job.

Overall

Harvard has all the talent required to finish in the top half of the ECAC and competing for a first round bye for the second straight year. Marshall Everson and Alex Fallstrom are outstanding forwards and will produce goals all season long, but if the freshman are as good as advertised, Harvard will roll four dangerous lines in addition to three skillful and aggressive defensemen. Should the injury bug strike or the underclassmen underperform, the Crimson will be weakest up the middle of the ice and Donato might have to spread his scorers out to prevent Harvard from becoming a two-line team. Four of the five skaters from Harvard’s top power-play unit last year return, and Vesey looked comfortable playing Killorn’s spot on the halfboards against McGill.

Defensively, the Crimson are as deep as they’ve been in recent memory and have an ideal mix between puck-moving and responsible defensemen. Harvard also returns some top penalty-killing forwards in Greiner and Blackwell. Bergin and four of the freshman forwards weigh in at over 190 pounds, meaning this team could also be the hardest-hitting to take the ice at the Bright Center in some time. Finally, after last year’s frequent frustration and occasional brilliance, both goaltenders expect to be more consistent in net. WHRB Sports thinks that both Union and Cornell are better at this point, to be discussed in more depth in our upcoming all-ECAC preview. Nevertheless, given the experience gained during the final months of last year and the hype surrounding the incoming players, it should shock no one if Harvard makes another run at the conference title. 

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