CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Let’s be honest. The chances of Harvard finishing eighth this season are pretty slim, but if there is one thing that we have all learned about the Crimson, it’s that you don’t always know what you are going to get.
In his second year at the helm, Mark Mazzoleni has done everything in his power to get rid of the old and bring in the new. From implementing a more western style of play, to changing the colors and look of Bright Hockey Center, Mazzoleni is committed to turning this program around. The problem is that no one — not even the head coach — knows when the results will begin to show. It could be this year, it could be the next.
“I knew coming in that it doesn’t happen in a year,” said Mazzoleni, whose team finished tied for sixth in the ECAC last season. “I coached in the CCHA when Red Berenson came in. People talk about Michigan in the elite of college hockey, and with all rights they should, but in his first few seasons, they were at the bottom of the league. We have kids that are excellent players and we’re just trying to complement them as come in.”
For the past four years, everyone has been talking about Harvard’s great recruiting classes. This year’s senior crew is no exception. Three years ago, the likes of Steve Moore, Chris Bala and Harry Schwefel were touted as future stars. The expectations fell short of reality as the senior class enters its final year at Harvard looking for one last magical season to prove that the rough journey was worth the struggles.
“Bala is a young man we’re looking to have a breakout year for us,” Mazzoleni said of Bala, who spent the summer bulking up while training with the Ottawa Senators. “He needed more strength on the puck and hopefully he has increased it this summer. The forwards [in general] are the strength of our team, and there is no reason our seniors can’t step it up and have breakout years to take the pressure off sophomores [Derek] Nowak and Dominic Moore.”
Those two sophomores were critical elements to Harvard’s offensive attack last season. The younger Moore may not have the physical presence of his older brother, but he does have some of the best hands in the league. He finished with a team-high 12 goals last season and will be a marked man on the ice during his sophomore campaign. Like Moore, Nowak is another second-year player who drew attention last year, finishing with 6 goals and 11 assists on the year.
While the returning forwards, who represent five of the team’s top six scorers from last season, are solid in many respects, much of the attention this year has drifted towards three players who have yet to hit the Bright Hockey Center ice. Newcomers Tyler Kolarik and Rob Fried are coming off sensational prep school careers and are expected to do what Harvard freshmen have done year in and year out — step right in and make an immediate impact. It’s also hard to miss Dennis Packard, who will bring his 6-foot-5-inch, 215-pound frame into the Crimson lineup.
Although encouraged and excited about the newcomers, Mazzoleni has seen history play itself out time and time again and he knows that he cannot rely on his freshmen to shoulder the entire offensive burden.
“Tyler Kolarik and Robbie Fried are two players that should make an impact on our team this year,” said Mazzoleni. “I told our guys that the impact freshmen would not determine our record this year; it’s the guys coming back. We’re hopeful that with nine new freshmen, at least two of them will do something for us.”
— Mark Mazzoleni
Defensively, Harvard will be young and small. Tim Stay is not only the sole senior on the blueline, but he’s also the only returning defenseman over 6-foot. Juniors Peter Capouch and Graham Morell, who returns after missing a year due to shoulder surgery, will need to add stability to the group and help nurture along the newcomers — Blair Barlow, Dave McCulloch and Kenny Smith — who will certainly log plenty of ice time from the get go. The good news: the three freshmen, all 6-feet-plus, increase the average size of the Crimson defensive corps.
“A [question mark for us] is our blueline because we really are only six deep back there and three of them are freshmen,” said Mazzoleni. “I believe that if the defensive corps can stay injury free, it can develop into a solid one by the end of the year.
“Even though Morrell took a year off, he will be our most experienced guy back there. He brings experience and attitude that we are lacking back there. He’s tough and plays a blue-collar game and we’re looking for his presence to make us a much-improved team.”
If there was one overriding question mark, however, it would be in net where Oliver Jonas will take over the starting position from four-year starter J.R. Prestifilippo. Last season, Jonas saw action in six games with a 3-2-0 record, 3.66 goals against average and .886 goals against average.
“Can Oliver Jonas step up after being a backup for three years and be a starting goaltender?” said Mazzoleni of his goalie, who will be challenged by another freshman, Will Crothers. “It’s Oliver’s job to lose. He’s waited patiently.
“We’ve addressed the steps that he had to take to get ready for this year and I am confident that he has done that and now it’s his opportunity. I know it’s difficult to play when there is always another guy there. He’ll look at it with a different approach this year, and he’ll have a senior year that we need out of that position. I would like to get Crothers in one of every three or four games.”
If everything comes together for the Crimson, perhaps Bright Hockey Center will have the new look that Mazzoleni so desperately wants it to have.
“It’s probably still very similar to where we were last year and we have a lot of question marks in our program,” said Mazzoleni. “We’re really still a year away from really coming down here and have people talk about us as a serious contender. Our goal this year is still to get home ice in the playoffs. Our team will be improved over last year and will improve from game to game.”