There are some times when a rivalry is so great, that it transcends the records of the teams involved. This week’s CSTV Friday Night Hockey match between Harvard and Yale (8 p.m. ET, DirecTV Ch. 610, pre-game coverage at 7 p.m.) is one of those times.
Both the Crimson, in their first year under Ted Donato, and the Bulldogs, in their 27th season under Tim Taylor, have struggled in the young season, but neither team’s attitude reflects that fact. When these schools meet on the football field, it’s known simply as “The Game,” and as they prepare to meet on the ice, they may as well call it “The Opportunity,” as both teams hope to use this game to catapult themselves back into the thick of competition in the ECAC Hockey League. Here are a couple of keys for each team to focus on if they want to make the most of that opportunity.
YALE BULLDOGS (0-4-0, 0-2-0 ECACHL)
Taylor is concerned about his team’s rough start, but he gives his team high marks for their attitude. The Bulldogs don’t have their tails between their legs, but they need to get some momentum — and taking a bite out of rival Crimson would be an excellent way to do that.
Defensive Presence: Taylor is not a fan of trapping – or “expansion hockey,” as he calls it – but not much else has worked so far for the Bulldogs, who have given up 27 goals in four games. Obviously, keeping pucks out of the net needs to be a focus in its own right, but if the Elis can establish a solid defensive presence, it should help generate good offensive chances.
Defensive presence starts in the net, where Taylor is probably wishing that current Yale student Mike Richter had a couple more years of eligibility. Junior Josh Gartner – son of Hall of Famer Mike Gartner – entered the season as the No. 1 goaltender, but has not established himself in that role. The younger Gartner needs to play with confidence and become the backbone of his team. Senior Peter Cohen and sophomore Matt Modelski have also seen time between the pipes, and could see more.
No matter who gets the start in net for Yale, Taylor will be looking to three sophomore defensemen to step up and provide some help. As freshmen, Matt Cohen, Shawn Mole, and Bill LeClerc saw their fair share of ice time, but now, they need to develop from little “pups” into big Bulldogs for Yale to be successful. Two prominent defensemen from last year’s team are gone in Joe Callahan and Jeff Dwyer, which means that Taylor’s sophomore trio will need to assume more responsibility.
Take Me To Your Leaders: Yale returns its top three scorers from last season in juniors Joe Zappala, Christian Jensen and Jeff Hristovski. Taylor has praised these three for their leadership through troubled times in New Haven, but with three total points between them, they need to assert themselves as leaders on the score-sheet as well as in the locker room.
Taylor has split the high-scoring juniors up onto two different lines in order to spread the scoring threat around. Also, the Bulldogs have gotten early contributions from freshman Blair Yaworski, who is Yale’s leading goal-scorer. Still, the rookie from Calgary will need guidance on the ice, and that guidance needs to come from the likes of Zappala, Jensen and Hristovski.
HARVARD CRIMSON (0-2-1, 0-2-1 ECACHL)
Ted Donato’s team has had troubles of its own; an early-season road trip to No. 8 Cornell and No. 14 Colgate can do that to a team. The Crimson did earn a point for their season-opening tie with Brown, in a matchup that has been troublesome in recent years for Harvard under former coach Mark Mazzoleni. Donato and the Crimson would certainly love to notch a couple more points in the ECACHL standings at the expense of their bitter rival — and key contributions in two main areas should help them do so.
Putting the “D” in Harvard — Harvard’s defense has played respectably, allowing eight goals in three games, but Donato’s blue line crew should be leading the way. Led by co-captain Noah Welch, the Crimson defensive corps has size, presence, and six NHL draft picks.
The Crimson clearly has the individual pieces of a great, intimidating defense, but it takes team defense to be effective and generate increased mobility, which is important, given the kind of offense that Donato is looking to run.
Veterans’ Day – We honor our nation’s veterans today, and the veteran Crimson players need to step up on Friday in order for Harvard to be successful. Donato is attempting to bring back the style of play that his own college coach, Harvard legend Bill Cleary, used to make the Crimson a national powerhouse during his tenure in Cambridge. Cleary’s skills-based game plan is different than what the Crimson were used to under Mazzoleni, and the veteran players will be called upon to lead the way through this period of transition.
So far, it hasn’t gone so well. The Crimson have scored three goals in three games, and it doesn’t take an actuarial student from MIT to figure out that three goals won’t cut it if the Crimson want to repeat as ECACHL champs. Harvard needs more scoring, and two key Crimson seniors could be the ones to get things going.
Tom Cavanagh lead the Crimson in scoring last season, and has one of the team’s three goals thus far. Also, classmate Brendan Bernakevitch had a breakout junior year with 30 points (11g, 19a), and needs to continue that trend into a memorable senior year. The Regina, Saskatchewan native is a hard-working forward who can come up with an ugly goal if necessary — which is fine, since they count just as much as pretty ones — and it will take any kind of goal to come out of Friday night’s tilt with a victory.
Of course, there’s one big X-factor for both teams, and that is their storied rivalry. This is the kind of game that gets a big circle on a team’s calendar, and it’s the kind of game where you need to throw the records out the window. Last year’s meeting in New Haven saw the Elis race out to a 5-1 lead, only for Harvard to come back, earn a 7-5 victory, and roll on to an ECACHL championship. Who knows what kind of mayhem this season’s matchup will bring.
Billy Jaffe serves as a hockey analyst for CSTV. He is a former college player at Michigan and has served as a broadcaster and an on-ice official for CCHA games.