Harvard hopes return of players will provide a fresh start

Perhaps 2013 will be a Crimson kind of year: It can’t possibly be a bad thing that the “other” Crimson — the fluid, Southern kind — just won another national title, can it?

The scholastic, Cambridge kind of Crimson are having some troubles on the ice. (The males, at least… the females are ranked second in the nation.) The Harvard men are mired in a six-game winless slump (0-5-1) and haven’t topped two goals since mid-November. They lost four players in a controversial and much-publicized academic scandal, and are in the midst of a season-long, seven-game road swing that includes five top-20 opponents.

“I think coming out of the break, we’re looking forward to having a fresh start,” coach Ted Donato said. “Unfortunately, we came back … with some guys still injured. Against Northeastern (a 5-1 home loss), we were undermanned. [Top goal-scorer Jimmy] Vesey was overseas, [forward Kyle] Criscuolo was out with an injury, [forward Petr] Placek was out with an injury, [forward Alex] Fallstrom was out with an injury, we lost one guy to cramps for a period, so we were really undermanned. That certainly wasn’t the plan going into the break — we thought we’d have more guys after the break.”

Thus, Donato wasn’t terribly surprised or upset by the result of that particular game, and he’s not significantly frustrated with the state of his team now, either.

“We’re content with where we’re at,” he said.

“We’re looking forward to the upcoming games, and really a chance to get into the meat of our schedule. We had a little bit of a quirky schedule in that we were the last team in Division I to play a game. … Then we had a two-week break at Thanksgiving and another two-and-a-half weeks at Christmas, so it kind of feels like we’ve started, stopped, started, stopped, so we’re looking forward to getting some rhythm and finding our identity as a team.”

With 17 games over the next 53 days — kicking off with Wednesday’s contest at No. 8 Boston University on NBC Sports Network — there is ample opportunity for bonding. There is no room, however, for consolations.

“Our objective is to win games. There’s no moral victories. We know we need to improve, and we want to win hockey games at the same time. We don’t think we’ve played our best hockey consistently, and we know that we have a pretty busy January on the road, but we have a lot of confidence in what our team can accomplish.

“We feel that we can play better than we have so far.”

On Harvard’s sputtering attack, Donato said he believes that the causes are both strategic and circumstantial.

“I think it’s a combination of a lot of things,” he said. “It’s been difficult for us to have any kind of combination chemistry. Offensively, we’ll form more chemistry when we get some bodies back and get healthy.”

Vesey’s return is sure to diversify the Crimson’s options, as will the returns of Fallstrom and Criscuolo. Rookie Vesey struck gold in Russia last weekend; he and his teammates hope to build that momentum into a true Crimson tide in 2013.

Raiders are truly lightweight

Thirty-one goals in five games is a pretty good haul for any team, much less one as young as Colgate. An 11-7-2 record is pretty good too, especially for a side as paltry as the Raiders. Five straight wins, too? It stands to reason that 31 goals will get you there, even for a team as unimposing as this.

Heck, even the coach is amazed.

“You know, I am a little bit,” Colgate coach Don Vaughan said. “I have to be honest that, everybody has young players … but for us, we’ve got 21 skaters in our program, so we’re not afforded the luxury of spotting our freshman and giving them the opportunity to get their feet wet.

“For us, we’ve had to throw our young guys into the fire. They’re on our power play, they’re killing penalties, they’re out there at critical times in the game. We were prepared to take some lumps — and we have at times, there have been some young mistakes along the way — but overall, they’ve responded, and they’ve been able to handle that.”

That’s right, the jokes are about roster size … because nothing else is light or flimsy about this surprising Raiders team.

The squad is burying over three-and-a-half goals a game overall, dropping the likes of Quinnipiac and Dartmouth along the way. The power play is humming at 21 percent overall, 25 percent in the league. Freshmen have accumulated 28 of Colgate’s 72 goals. Senior Robbie Bourdon (seven goals, 19 points) is supported — and then some — by the likes of the Spink twins (Tylor, 19 points, and Tyson, 15), Kyle Baun (10 goals), Joe Wilson (16 points), Kurtis Bartliff (seven goals, 14 points) and Darcy Murphy (seven goals). The combined NCAA experience of Bourdon’s posse? Just 389 games, with 252 of those coming from Bourdon and classmate Bartliff.

So far, it’s been the young’ns who have earned much of the attention this year for their prolific ice time and their productivity. Vaughan knows that the team runs deeper than that, though.

“Kurtis Bartliff has played very well for us, too,” he said. “He’s a senior, he does things quietly. The three guys who have played really consistently for us as well are the senior defensemen, who have logged a lot of minutes. We put up some big numbers in certain games, but I think we’ve played pretty well defensively, too. A lot of that credit goes to [Thomas] Larkin, [Jeremy] Price and [Nathan] Sinz, our three captains. They’ve done a really nice job for us back there.”

Much like Harvard, Colgate is in the midst of an odd bit of scheduling: The winter break ended with two home games against hapless Sacred Heart (a 15-2 aggregate score by the merciful final horn), but the Raiders are off again this weekend before hitting the Capital District next week.

“It’s kind of a strange schedule,” Vaughan said before addressing the upcoming league slate: “We know that we’re going to have our hands full, and we’ll have to play even better than we have if we want to make a run at this thing.

“With the exception of maybe last weekend — where as a league we took a little bit of a step back — we’ve had a pretty good run outside the conference. I think our conference is quite strong this year, and we know our toughest games are ahead of us. We know that for sure. We’re in for a real battle.”

The coach praised his aforementioned power play, but has some concerns about the other half of his special teams.

“We’re going to have to be solid on our power play, which has been pretty good lately,” Vaughan said. “And our penalty killing … is not where it needs to be right now.

“We’ve tried to mix it up a little bit. [Unlike some other teams in the league,] we’re not blessed with a whole lot of depth, so there’s been a tendency to have to use the same guys on the power play that we’re using on the penalty kill. I think that wears guys out; certainly we’ve seen that. This year we’re trying to work some guys into our penalty killing who don’t see a lot of power play time, just to spread it around a little bit, so that’s been a bit of a work in progress.”

Despite the scheduling quirks, growing pains and PK headaches, Vaughan said that this year has been an overwhelmingly positive experience for him and his staff. Like a pack of puppies, Colgate’s youth has infused the program with a rejuvenating sense of energy and enthusiasm.

“It’s a pretty fun group, and I can tell you from having been at this for a long time that it’s given our coaching staff a boost of energy, if you will,” Vaughan said. “The eight freshmen absolutely love the game, they want to be around the rink all the time, they have a true passion for it, and that’s contagious right through to the coaching staff. So that’s been fun.”

He praised the seniors for properly “bringing [the rookies] into the fold” and setting solid examples both on and off the ice. While the Raiders may be light on years and numbers, they are rolling heavy with ECAC action ahead.

‘The Streak,’ in perspective

Quinnipiac’s eye-popping streak is at 14 games unbeaten, and 10 straight league wins. Before we get too lathered up over this impressive run, let’s stop to acknowledge that longer overall tears have occurred 13 times in just the last decade: Minnesota ran off 22 straight games without defeat in 2006-07. North Dakota strung together 20 tilts without a loss two years later. Heck, Boston College enjoyed a 19-game undefeated romp just last year (and it culminated in another national title).

Since the 1998-99 season (when College Hockey Stats’ database terminates … or begins … or whatever), there have been 27 different unbeaten streaks hitting 14 games or longer.

What makes this one so captivating — to us, at least — is that ECAC fans are rarely privy to such runs. Of those 27 streaks, only three have been by league representatives: QU’s current streak and two by Cornell (15 games in 2002-03 and 19 in 2004-05). It’s a nasty, brutal, no-gimmes conference out here, so seeing QU carve through 10 straight conference foes is something of a novelty, I’ll give you that.

(By the way, the longest ECAC winning streaks among current league members are … let’s just say a little ways off, for the Bobcats: Cornell once pitched 47 straight W’s against ECAC competition and Dartmouth 46. History!)

Hobey hopefuls are now official

The list of Hobey Baker Award nominees is out, and it includes 14 ECAC Hockey icers: From Cornell, Andy Iles, Greg Miller, and Nick D’Agostino; from Dartmouth, Matt Lindblad and Tyler Sikura; Danny Biega is Harvard’s representative, Eric Hartzell Quinnipiac’s; Kyle Flanagan makes the list for St. Lawrence; from Union, Greg Coburn, Kyle Bodie and Wayne Simpson; and from Yale, Andrew Miller, Antoine Laganiere and Kenny Agostino.

As the saying goes, vote early, vote Pedro often.



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