When we last left you, we were going on and on about one of the joys of winter — walking to the rink as the snow falls around us.
Sorry about that.
We admit it, more than two feet of snow is a little much. Honestly, we didn’t know what we’d get when we hoped the white stuff would fall. After all, Mother Nature doesn’t read our column, or … hmm …
This weekend’s weather calls for more of a mess in the Northeast, but with only a few games on the slate the impact should be minimal.
This also marks our final column until 2004, but we will be back with a few feature pieces while we wait for the schedule to get back into full swing. Stay tuned for a first-half ECAC report card next week, but for now, here are a few tidbits as we pack the column away for while.
A Quiet Star
On a team loaded with talented players up front and on the blueline, the news is usually about Noah Welch, Tom Cavanagh, Tyler Kolarik, Tim Pettit or Kenny Smith. Over the last seven games, however, another member of the Harvard Crimson has been the most consistent, yet least heralded, performer.
Goaltender Dov Grumet-Morris has stepped up and is playing, arguably, the best hockey of his Harvard career.
In 2001-02, Grumet-Morris spent most of his freshman campaign alternating between the pipes with Will Crothers as the Crimson struggled to 10-11-4 record by mid-February. One week later, a loss to Rensselaer in which Grumet-Morris entered in relief of Crothers put the club two games under .500.
The rookie was given the start against Union the next evening and responded with a 32-save shutout.
“He played outstanding,” said Crimson coach Mark Mazzoleni that night. “That’s the type of goaltending we need. He knew he had to come up with a big game and he did it.”
Crothers never played another minute that season — or since — and, in a week, Harvard latched onto Grumet-Morris’ back and began a memorable playoff run.
After a 22-save performance in a Game One win over Brown in the ECAC first round, the rookie stopped 31 shots in the double-overtime clincher. In Lake Placid the following week, Grumet-Morris made 39 saves in an overtime upset of top-seeded Clarkson, including 14 in the extra frame. In the finals, he turned aside 26 in a double-overtime title-clinching victory over rival Cornell.
The magical ride ended a week later in the NCAAs where, despite Grumet-Morris’ 33 saves, the Crimson lost in overtime to eventual national runner-up Maine. Even so, Harvard had uncovered a gem.
“We have found a major-league collegiate hockey goaltender,” Mazzoleni said after the season-ending defeat. “He was the big difference maker. He definitely has room to improve his game, but he has the will and desire to do so.”
And he has.
He posted an 18-9-2 record in 2002-03 with a 2.38 goals against average (GAA) and .925 save percentage in leading the Crimson to their first 20-win season (22-10-2) since 1993-94.
This year, Mazzoleni expected a battle between Grumet-Morris and sophomore John Daigneau. The coach’s plan was to give Daigneau enough starts to prove himself worthy, especially since the netminder was 4-1-0 with a 1.45 GAA and .943 save percentage in 2002-03. But he followed up a shaky performance at Vermont with the now infamous (at least in Cambridge) third-period collapse against Princeton that led to Harvard’s most emotionally crushing defeat this season.
Daigneau hasn’t seen the ice since. Sound familiar?
In the meantime, in the seven games since the Princeton loss, Grumet-Morris has been Harvard’s best player. He’s allowed only 10 goals, a mere five of them at even strength. The three goals he allowed in the Crimson’s loss to Boston College on Wednesday were his most in any contest this season.
“The first goal was not a good goal,” said Mazzoleni in the wake of the Eagles’ victory. “Other than that, he was outstanding. He’s been outstanding for the last four weeks, he’s just not getting rewarded.”
That’s because of the rest of the Harvard squad.
The Crimson are only 4-3-0 during their netminder’s hot streak, having scored just twice in three losses that included two shutouts. Harvard is also 1-15 on the power play in those defeats and has managed just 39 combined shots in losing two straight.
“We talk about putting the puck on the net,” explained Mazzoleni. “It seems that we like too get cute with the puck and we hold it too long. It’s not the first time we’ve said this. You’d think they’d get it by now. We’re just not doing a good job.”
Such struggles have led to media buzz about why Pettit, he of the 48 career goals, has only one tally. About injuries to Kenny Turano, David McCulloch and Dylan Reese that are challenging the vaunted Harvard depth. About coming to grips with just how different this team is with Moore playing in the AHL and not the ECAC.
In the meantime, however, the Crimson would be in an even worse position were it not for Grumet-Morris. He’s again performing exceptionally well in his typically quiet and modest way.
Low-key off the ice, but vocal on it, he’s constantly giving all credit to his defensemen. Granted, the blueliners do a strong job of clearing rebounds and opposing forwards, but, with a 1.67 GAA that ranks fourth in the nation and a fifth-best .941 save percentage, it is Grumet-Morris who is earning the spotlight on a team full of big names.
Ivies Back on Top
Don’t look now, but the Ivies are once again on top of the pack in the ECAC. After taking the top five spots in the league standings last season, Brown, Yale, Cornell, Harvard, Dartmouth and Princeton head into their last few games of 2003 positioned first through sixth, respectively, in the conference.
The sixth-place Tigers and second-place Elis have already skated in 10 ECAC games, followed by the first-place Bears and fourth-place Crimson’s nine. The second-place Big Red and fourth-place Big Green have only played six teams within the conference, giving them a distinct advantage over their Ivy brethren.
Cornell and Dartmouth are also the ECAC’s only remaining undefeated teams in league action. The Big Red are 4-0-2 and the Big Green 3-0-3. Each has played close contests with low scores — games that have become the norm rather than the exception in the conference.
“We need to be ready to play in these types of games,” Cornell coach Mike Schafer explained recently. “We’re going to be in a lot of them.”
O Captain! My Captain!
In a surprise move, Vermont senior Jeff Miles relinquished his team co-captaincy last week, adding another odd chapter to what has been a mystery of a winless season thus far in Burlington.
According to first-year Catamount head coach Kevin Sneddon, “Jeff came to the coaching staff and said that he felt it would be best for the team and best for him if he was no longer a captain.”
It’s a move that we can’t remember having seen before, at least not in recent memory, and it left the Cats with a hole they moved quickly to fill.
“We respect [Jeff’s] decision,” explained Sneddon, “and the team unanimously voted to make [sophomore defenseman] Jaime Sifers a captain along with Oriel McHugh.”
Sneddon also said that junior Brady Leisenring would remain the team’s lone assistant captain for the rest of the campaign.
What’s On Tap
Colgate (6-6-2, 3-3-0 ECAC) travels to Sacred Heart (4-7-1, 4-4-1 Atlantic Hockey) for the lone Friday game involving an ECAC team. The Raiders, coming off a 6-1 victory over No. 13 Brown, have won all three games all-time against the Pioneers.
Princeton (4-8-0, 4-6-0) heads to Boston to face off against Northeastern (1-9-2, 0-7-1 Hockey East) on Saturday. The Tigers, who have rebounded from opening the season with four straight losses to go 4-4-0, have posted back-to-back shutouts in their last two wins. The Huskies lead the all-time series 24-12-3 and have a 14-4-0 advantage in Matthews Arena. Princeton, which is winless on Saturdays (0-6-0), has already surpassed last season’s win total.
The Crimson (5-5-1, 4-4-1) play host to the Massachusetts Minutemen (9-3-2, 5-2-1 HE) Saturday at 5 p.m. Harvard leads 5-1-0 in the all-time series against its in-state foes, but this is the first time the Crimson will face Don “Toot” Cahoon since his days at the Princeton helm.
St. Lawrence (5-10-3, 2-5-0), coming off a weekend sweep of Mass-Lowell and No. 5 New Hampshire, hosts Mercyhurst (6-5-1, 4-3-0 AH) in the Saints’ final game of 2003. SLU is 4-4-0 since opening the season with just one win in its first 10 games. This is the first meeting between the two teams.
No. 12 Dartmouth (4-1-4, 3-0-3) takes to the road again for a trip to Orono to battle No. 3 Maine (11-2-1, 6-2-1 HE). The game will mark the third of four straight games for the Big Green against top Hockey East opponents. They sandwiched Thanksgiving between a loss to Boston College and a tie with Boston University, and will play Massachusetts on the first night of the Sheraton/Bank North Classic two days after Christmas. The Black Bears are 4-0-1 since their only two losses this season.
The Crimson return to the ice next Tuesday when they visit Princeton for each team’s final game before the holiday tournaments. Harvard, which leads the all-time series 137-48-8, will be looking to avenge an early-season loss to the Tigers at home. Princeton, meanwhile, will try to complete its second regular-season sweep of the Crimson in the last three years.