The New Crimson Era
When he got the call from Harvard in late July, Mark Mazzoleni knew that the immediate road ahead would be difficult. Not only did the five-year Miami coach pack a bag and move hundreds of miles away from his family, but he also adopted a young Crimson team that was struggling to find its identity. With a mere three months to prepare before the season opener against Brown, Mazzoleni went straight to work by bringing in ECAC veteran Ron Rolston (from Clarkson) and former Maine assistant Nate Leaman.
“As you can imagine, taking a job in late July and early August and having to totally change your life — it was a whirlwind,” said Mazzoleni. “We have two really quality people as assistants; they are not only unbelievably driven and hard-working, but they are excellent communicators and coaches. I have been able to delegate a great deal to them and make it workable. We have been putting in the hours just like anyone would expect, but we are finally starting to get our heads above water.”
With a staff in place and a temporary roof over his head, Mazzoleni still faces a mountainous challenge heading into this weekend’s opener in Providence. The Crimson dynasty of the late 1980s is no longer — replaced by a team that has struggled in recent years to keep its record over .500.
Despite an air of uncertainty, there is a buzz beginning to be felt around Cambridge. The team was dealt a blow on both sides of the ice by the graduation of two of its top three scorers from last year, Rob Millar and Craig Adams, and its focal point on the blue line, Ben Storey. But the beginning of the Mazzoleni era means a fresh start and a clean slate for many players.
“We have some kids that haven’t played a lot in the past, and I think that they see this as a new breath,” said Mazzoleni. “Guys like Matt McLeod and Jamin Kerner haven’t really had much of a chance in the past and they have had great camps so far. All they want is a fair shake and to go from this point forward. There are definitely some talented people on this hockey team.”
There is a slight pause before Mazzoleni finishes his thought.
“We have a couple areas of concern. One is on the blue line.”
After junior Graham Morrell announced that he would undergo needed reconstructive shoulder surgery just weeks before the season, the Crimson was left with a depleted corps of returning defensemen. The loss of Morrell, who played in 29 of the team’s 32 games last season, not only forced Mazzoleni to shuffle a forward temporarily back to the blue line, it also struck a serious blow to the experience index.
Harvard will begin the season with only three players who have logged considerable minutes on defense. Aside from seniors Matt Scorsune and Mark Moore and sophomore Peter Capouch, the remaining defensemen have yet to get a real taste of ECAC play. Junior Tim Stay has battled injuries for the majority of his first two years, while big-bodied players like junior Liam McCarthy and sophomore Leif Ericson have yet to establish themselves as consistent contributors.
The factor that Mazzoleni is banking on come Saturday night, however, is his goaltending. Although J.R. Prestifilippo will no doubt get the starting nod against the Bears, Oliver Jonas will be poised to step in as opportunity arises.
“We have two very good goalies in J.R. and Oliver, and both know that someone else is there who is capable of doing the job,” said Mazzoleni. “Good internal competition is what you want, and both have worked very hard so far.”
Mazzoleni mentions that he is also quite comfortable with his group of forwards and doesn’t see that to be an area of concern.
“We return (Steve) Moore and (Chris) Bala and that is probably our strength,” he said. “We’ve got to get the forwards the puck, which is a major concern.
“Our two strengths are in goaltending and depth at forward.”
Heading into Brown this Saturday the team will be without junior Harry Schwefel and sophomore, Derek Nowak. Schwefel is recovering from a broken jaw, while Nowak will watch from the stands with a dislocated shoulder. That will negate some of the depth that the Crimson has at forward.
Emotion will no doubt run high in Providence in Saturday night as both teams have a lot to prove this season. Much like the Crimson, Roger Grillo’s team had an emotionally trying 1998-99 campaign, and is now looking to right the ship.
“We only graduated three kids, and it was a year that we can forget some of the things that our team had to go through,” said Grillo. “They went through a lot of adversity to come through strong in the end … We were picked tenth [in the preseason ECAC coaches’ poll] and in some aspects that’s a blessing in disguise. There’s a lot of optimism in the locker room.”
As for the Crimson and Mazzoleni, well … the result of the facelift that was so desired by the players and fans will unveil itself for the first time on Saturday night.
“The kids have been great,” said the first-year coach. “Then again, we haven’t played a game and lost a game yet either.”
Seeing More Green
“We’ll probably get our teeth kicked in, but there’s no better reality check than to make guys realize where they are.” — Mark Morris last week, on the impending matchups between his Clarkson Golden Knights and Northern Michigan and North Dakota.
Realizing where the Knights are could be a good thing for the Clarkson and ECAC fans around the country. The Knights went into Marquette and took two from the ninth-ranked team in the country this past weekend with 3-2 and 2-1 victories.
“We played very well for our opening game,” said Knight head coach Mark Morris. “I was extremely pleased with the effort of Shawn Grant and our three freshman defensemen (Joe Carosa, Dave Reid and Chris Bahen).”
Grant made 14 and 30 saves in the two games, while Carosa’s first collegiate goal was the game-winner on Friday evening.
“There is still no real threat for [Grant’s] position, so the big challenge for him is to stay healthy and to push himself to improve,” said Morris. “To date it’s still up in the air as to who is number two.
“[Carosa’s] a guy that has stepped right out of high school hockey and he walked on, so when things like that happen it’s a big boost for your confidence.”
With one green team swept, the Knights come home to take on another green team: North Dakota. The seventh ranked Knights will take on the third ranked Sioux in Potsdam this weekend. Last season the Knights were swept by the Sioux, 6-2 and 5-1.
“We’ve got North Dakota coming in so we’re not getting too full of ourselves,” Morris said about the two wins. “We’re very respectful of the team speed they have and how explosive they are. We’re hopeful that we stay on track and play good hockey. When you play teams with their reputation there is no room for error so you want to play solid defense and make the most of your chances — if you get any.
“We still have a lot of areas of our game that will be exposed against a quicker team like North Dakota. Northern had a few guys that could scoot but North Dakota is one of the quicker teams around. They are speed oriented and they have high skill. We have to keep them in check and keep them on the perimeter.”
A matchup of two of the top ten teams in the nation. What else could you want on a Friday evening?
“I think we’re ready for New Hampshire,” said Engineer head coach Dan Fridgen about Friday’s game against the Wildcats. “It’s something we’re looking forward to, and it’s another chance to redeem ourselves.”
Fridgen is talking about the fact that the Engineers have not beaten the Wildcats since 1992. Last year, the Engineers were blown out by the Wildcats at the Hartford Civic Center, 9-3. The previous year they lost to the Wildcats with under a minute to play, 5-4. The previous meeting before that, in 1994, the Engineers dropped a 2-0 decision in their first NCAA tournament game since winning the NCAA title in 1985.
Overall, the Engineers have lost five straight decisions to the Wildcats, and have only won once in the last eight meetings between the two clubs. It only gets tougher this time around as the Wildcats are ranked fifth in the nation. But then again, the Engineers are ninth.
The Engineers come off wins against Mass-Lowell and Union to improve their record to 4-0-0 on the season, their best start since the 1985-86 season.
“We realized last year that we had a goal to set and that was to make the NCAA tournament,” said Brad Tapper, who now has seven goals in four games. “It’s good for us to get on the right track.”
“I think we can play better because we’ve got a real big test in UNH,” said captain Brian Pothier, the co-ECAC Player of the Week. “We’ve just beaten four really good teams and it’s time to face one of the best teams in the nation.”
For those of you who are superstitious, there is one note to add — Hockey East correspondent Dave Hendrickson will be in attendance for this game. So, what does that mean?
Consider this, superstitious ones:
New Hampshire 2, Rensselaer 0 on 3/25/94 Mass-Lowell 5, Rensselaer 2 on 11/19/94 Mass-Lowell 3, Rensselaer 0 on 11/13/96 Boston University 6, Rensselaer 0 on 10/18/97 Mass-Lowell 8, Rensselaer 4 on 10/24/98 New Hampshire 9, Rensselaer 3 on 12/21/98
Those are — you guessed it — the last six Engineer games that Pops has seen.
Blue To Face Big Blue
The Bulldogs of Yale take on #5 Michigan this coming weekend in Ann Arbor. It’s normally a tough task to go into Yost Arena, but this week it will be even tougher.
“There’s a part of me that said it was suicide,” said head coach Tim Taylor about scheduling the game against Michigan.
The Bulldogs will go into the game without five of their 11 seniors. Those five just happen to be All-ECAC First Team and All-America forward Jeff Hamilton, his linemate Jeff Brow, forward Paul Lawson, defenseman Keith Fitzpatrick and goaltender Trevor Hanger.
All five were suspended by the NCAA for playing in a spring pick-up league after last season was over.
The NCAA prohibits student-athletes from playing in other leagues during the in-session academic calendar. They are only allowed to play during designated school breaks or during NCAA-exempt tournaments, such as the World Juniors or the Olympics.
Hamilton received the stiffest suspension — a five-game sentence which will render him ineligible until the Bulldogs play Dartmouth on Nov. 13, three games into the ECAC season.
Hanger and Lawson received two-game suspensions, Brow and Fitzpatrick one each. In each case, the number of games suspended equals the number of games played in the pick-up league.
None of the five will be in the lineup when the Bulldogs take on the Wolverines Saturday.
“The suspensions are in the past, and it’s time to concentrate on Yale hockey,” said Taylor. “Hopefully we’ll be strengthened by it. We’re excited about the season starting and we’ve got some tough teams on the schedule to begin the season with Michigan, New Hampshire, then Clarkson and St. Lawrence to open up our season.”
The Orange and Black Are Back
This is perhaps the most anticipated opener for an ECAC team to date. It’s not because Princeton is expected to be dynamic, or tragic, because they could be either. No one — not even head coach Don “Toot” Cahoon” — really knows what to expect when his team takes on the Purple Eagles on Saturday night in Buffalo, N.Y., at the Punch Imlach Tournament.
“We have no idea as to how things are going to work out this year,” said Cahoon. “We are in the midst of establishing who we are and how we might compete in the league.
“Gone are the Syl Appses, Jeff Halperns and Steve Shirreffses.”
On the other side of the coin stands Niagara. After a shaky start against Alaska-Anchorage in which the Purple Eagles dropped a lackluster 4-0 decision, Blaise MacDonald’s team has posted three straight victories, the most recent against Boston University.
Led once again by a standout performance by Mike Isherwood, who finished with two goals and three assists at last weekend’s ECAC/Crowne Plaza Faceoff Classic, Niagara will pose a considerable challenge to the untested Princeton defense.
Offensively, the Tigers will have a chance to finally see what its corps of players — many of whom saw limited action last season while playing in the shadows of the highly touted senior class — can do when given considerable ice time. Names to watch will include Brad Parsons, David Del Monte, Josh Roberts and Kirk Lamb, but then again, there will be no shortage of fresh faces on the ice this season for Cahoon’s squad.
“There’s a lot of optimism about everyone contributing,” Cahoon said. “There will not be kids hanging their heads about not playing. If we have a problem it doesn’t give us a lot of flexibility and we can’t have many injuries because we may not have a lot of kids who are ready for the level of play.”