After last year’s end-of-the-season run, many wonder what other tricks are in the Crimson’s back pocket?
A mediocre regular season was followed by one heart-stopping show after another as Harvard battled and fought its way back to the NCAA tournament — a place where they enjoyed so much success during the late ’80s and early ’90s. A double-overtime victory over archrival Cornell in the ECAC championship game and then an almost-upset of Maine in the first round of the NCAAs made it look like the Crimson had never left that comfortable spot beside the best of the best.
“You can’t place a value on the experience gained from your squad playing in big, meaningful games, games where the stakes are different and there are tremendous consequences,” said third-year head coach Mark Mazzoleni. “We have made progressive steps, and as a result, the stakes — and all of our expectations — are higher.”
The return of Dom Moore to the lineup is a huge positive for the program, especially after rumors of his departure for the pros dominated off-season chatter. Despite posting quality numbers — 13 goals, 16 assists — the highly-touted senior had a disappointing junior campaign. After spending the summer training with his older brother Steve, who plays in the Colorado system, Moore is looking to establish himself among the best forwards in the league, and an All-American and Hobey Baker candidate.
Another key to the Crimson’s offense will be Brett Nowak. After consecutive injury-plagued years, the senior forward exploded for a 31-point season that included a +8 rating. Also returning following a strong 2001-02 season are juniors Tyler Kolarik and Tim Pettit, who proved that they are legitimate stars after earning All-Tournament honors in Lake Placid. Add talented players such as Rob Fried and Tom Cavanaugh — the now-sophomore who netted the game-winner against Clarkson in the ECAC semifinals and added another tally in the NCAA tournament versus Maine — to the mix and you have one of the strongest offensive corps in the league.
“The freshmen this year will have a luxury not given to the classes in front of them,” explains Mazzoleni. “They will not have the pressure of having to step in right away and produce. The three previous classes all had a tremendous amount of responsibility — a challenge to be a major contributor right away. Overall, I feel good about our forwards, and I think that we are multidimensional top to bottom — we will have a great mix of size, speed, agility, skill and toughness.”
The biggest loss for Harvard will be the graduation of captain Peter Capouch, the emotional leader for the team during their run to the NCAAs. A host of talent still remains along the blue line, however, as the Crimson welcomes back size and strength in Ryan Lannon, Noah Welch and Kenny Smith. Lannon and Welch, particularly, logged extensive minutes during their freshman seasons. Another strong presence will be junior Dave McCulloch, the oldest member of the defensive corps. Despite such depth, watch for two freshmen — Peter Hafner and Tom Walsh — to vie for ice time.
If there was a potential weakness for the Crimson, it would be in net. The tandem of Will Crothers and Dov Grumet-Morris, although successful down the stretch, was not always consistent with Mazzoleni being forced to use both at times throughout the season.
“We have learned a lot about ourselves in the last few years,” said Mazzoleni. “We have gained maturity, in knowing exactly what type of effort it is going to take to achieve our goals. Having experienced the things we did last season — both the tough times and the satisfaction of winning the [ECAC] tournament — gives us some confidence and a bit of a mental edge.”
That edge will be critical, especially now that the Crimson has turned in its underdog role for that of contender.
“If we take care of business, good things will happen,” said Mazzoleni. “If we accomplish our goals of winning the regular season and the tournament, the other things — like making the NCAA tournament — take care of themselves.”