Harvard looks for upperclassmen to return to form after down season

Raphael Girard could be the key to Harvard’s success this season (photo: Melissa Wade).

It was an odd season for Harvard last year. After narrowly losing to Union in the ECAC Hockey championship game the year before, the Crimson went nearly two months without a win, then ran off a solid stretch to close the regular season before losing to Dartmouth in three games in the first round of the league playoffs.

That long winless stretch began with the quiet removal of four players from the Crimson roster: goalie Steve Michalek and defensemen Max Everson, Patrick McNally and Mark Luzar.

The school never announced any reason for their dismissal, although Michalek more or less admitted that the academic department-wide cheating scandal was the reason for his departure.

All four are back for the Crimson, and that should help a team that was often short-handed on defense last season.

McNally should also boost a Harvard power play that was tops in the nation two years ago but slipped to 48th last season.

The four returnees are joined by a large freshman class that includes defensemen Clay Anderson, Victor Newell and Kevin Guiltinan. Incoming forwards Alexander Kerfoot (New Jersey) and Sean Malone (Buffalo) were drafted in 2012 and 2013, respectively, and should contribute up front.

“I do think there is pressure on them to perform mainly because we graduated a good number of guys,” Harvard coach Ted Donato said. “But year in and year out your team wins games because of your upperclassmen. We’re looking for our returners to make a big jump.”

Those include sophomore forward Jimmy Vesey, who tied for the team lead with 11 goals last season. Classmates Brian Hart and Kyle Criscuolo also were solid.

But the key to the Crimson’s success could be goalie Raphael Girard. The junior was spectacular after taking over for Michalek two seasons ago but faded a bit last year. More depth on the blue line, along with the return of Michalek, should help Girard rebound this season.

Like conference members Cornell and Colgate, Harvard will have to integrate a number of newcomers with a group of returning veterans — something Donato admitted might not click right away.

“There are a lot of new players in the lineup,” Donato said. “It will maybe take a little time to get everybody on the same page, but it’s an exciting group.”

About the Crimson

2012-13 overall record: 10-19-3

2012-13 ECAC Hockey record: 6-14-2 (12th)

2013-14 predicted finish: Sixth in the coaches’ poll and 10th in the media poll

Key losses: F Alex Fallstrom, F Marshall Everson, D Danny Biega

Players to watch: F Jimmy Vesey, F Brian Hart, D Patrick McNally, G Raphael Girard

Impact rookies: F Alexander Kerfoot, F Sean Malone

Why the Crimson will finish higher than predicted: Improved depth on defense and a bounce-back season from Raphael Girard help Harvard resemble the team from two years ago instead of last year’s disaster.

Why the Crimson will finish lower than predicted: The offensive production isn’t there once again, as Girard and the defense can only bail the Crimson out so many times.