Harvard hoping recent run of success is a sign of things to come

Raphael Girard is battling with Steve Michalek for Harvard’s No. 1 goaltender position (photo: Melissa Wade).

Don’t call it a roll yet, but it’s certainly not a tumble. The Harvard Crimson have two wins in their last three games, and coach Ted Donato is hoping it’s a sign of good things to come.

“We just have to be a little more consistent with what we’re doing,” he said. “Our energy and our compete level, for the most part, have been there. Obviously, we have a lot of new faces, and we’re trying to integrate everybody, get everybody on the same page.”

The Crimson have nine freshmen, and Donato said he sees steps forward.

“There’s good energy with the group,” he said. “We’ve lost a couple of tough, close games, but there’s definitely improvement and if we stay on top of it, we can really become a much better team throughout the year.”

One place where the Crimson have no lack of experience is in net, where senior Raphael Girard and junior Steve Michalek are battling it out for No. 1 status.

So far, Girard is posting better numbers, but Donato is in no rush to bench a lesser ‘keeper.

“There are certain parts of the season where goalies can get run down, and competition should bring out the best. I expect that there will be a good battle going on there in the nets, and hopefully we’ll be able to continue to improve in all areas,” Donato said.

“We’re trying to get them both an opportunity. We played four games in our first eight nights, so that made it a little bit difficult to play one guy. We have confidence in both of them, and both have played pretty well to this point. We’re not committed to playing both guys all the way through. Each and every night we want to put in the net the guy who we feel gives us the best chance to win. If someone takes the ball and runs with it, we’d certainly be excited about that.”

Up front, Harvard is unsettlingly dependent on sophomores Kyle Criscuolo and Jimmy Vesey, who have combined for 13 of the team’s 26 total goals.

“We want to create more depth up front,” Donato said. “We want to be more dangerous. We’ve had a decent amount of offensive opportunities from a shot standpoint. The quality of chances, I think we can be much grittier around the front of the net and get some more goals in that tough area. That’s something we’re working on. … Hopefully we’ll get production from more players down the lineup.”

Harvard knocked off New Hampshire in Durham on Tuesday night, doubling up the Wildcats 6-3. The victory was an important step toward recovery for the Crimson, who were still seething over last week’s 5-1 home loss to Boston College.

Harvard won’t play another home game until after Christmas, with road games at Ivies Dartmouth, Brown, and Yale upcoming.

“These four games give us a great opportunity to really establish some fundamental traits of our team: a compete level; an aggressive, offensive, high-tempo game. I think our special teams can continue to improve and will need to improve,” Donato said.

“We get back into the three league games with Dartmouth, Brown and Yale, and those are incredibly important games. There are a couple teams at the top [of the league], but everybody else is very much in the same range, so we’re really keying in on these games.”

Colgate’s Kyle Baun (right) has seven goals and 15 points in 15 games (photo: Shelley M. Szwast).

An ‘interesting team’

I say it almost every year, I think, but here it is again: Colgate sure does fly under the radar sometimes. Maybe it’s the geography, maybe it’s the streak-averse nature of their campaigns, but the Raiders manage to sneak up on myself and the rest of the league with eerie regularity.

Colgate has taken wins in five of its last seven games, downing the likes of Union, St. Lawrence and Clarkson, all on the road. Goals-against are down, goals-scored are up. It’s almost like good offense and good defense are some kind of secret weapon or something.

“We’re an interesting team,” coach Don Vaughan said. “We have 17 first- or second-year guys. One of the biggest challenges has been consistency. When we’ve stuck to the task and taken care of the little things, we’ve had success. When we get away from it, we haven’t.”

That said, Vaughan said that “we’re relatively pleased with how far we’ve come in a short time with such a young team.”

Like Harvard, aforementioned, the Raiders have a multi-headed goaltending arrangement with no clear solution in sight.

“Early on, we tried to see if one of them wanted to run with it, and that did not happen, so we wanted to give each guy a chance to prove himself in a game situation,” Vaughan said. “And we’ve had some pretty good consistent play out of [senior] Eric Mihalik and [freshman] Charlie Finn here in the last couple of weeks. At some point one them may run with it, but at this point we’re really comfortable with the rotation, and we’ve got a third guy in Spencer Finney who played a lot of good minutes for us last year. He’s battling hard, and he’s very close, too. Until one of them takes over, there’s a pretty good chance we’ll continue to rotate.”

Vaughan clarified that Mihalik and Finn are his two starters at the moment, with Finney waiting in the wings for his next chance to shine.

On offense, sophomore Kyle Baun is making a quick name for himself with seven goals and 15 points in 15 games. He is supported by classmates and twins Tyson and Tylor Spink (though Tylor is currently day-to-day with an injury), and second-year classmates Darcy Murphy and Mike Borkowski are doing a bang-up job of keeping the sophomore class at the top of Colgate’s charts.

“It starts with a guy like Kyle Baun,” Vaughan said. “In practice, in games, off the ice, his work ethic and focus and commitment to getting better has been unbelievable. He’s garnering a lot of attention from NHL teams as a free agent. He’s been really consistent in his efforts since he got back on campus in the fall, so he’s probably the guy leading the way in that regard. When he’s going like that, he makes the guys around him better. He’s got a good supporting cast on his line with the Spink twins; they’ve played together a lot in the past two years.

“They all get [goals] kind of differently. Tylor and Darcy get into the dirty areas, battle hard in the blue paint, however Kyle’s got an unbelievable shot. Tyson is probably more of a pure sniper, but I don’t think you can overlook another guy: [sophomore] Mike Borkowski has had a really good start for us this year. He’s taken his game to another level. He’s probably hit three goalposts, otherwise he’d be right up there, too. He’s seeing it well, he’s shooting the puck tremendously well, and he’s spent a lot of time playing with Murphy, too, and I think they complement each other.”

The Raiders have also enjoyed the settling, veteran presence of junior defenseman and cancer survivor Spiro Goulakos.

“There was a sense of ease and calmness, to have him back in the room,” Vaughan said.

While Goulakos is playing major minutes every weekend, Vaughan admits that Goulakos isn’t quite the player he was before his diagnosis last year.

“In fairness to Spiro, he’d be the first to tell you that his stamina is not where it was last year, prior to getting sick,” Vaughan said. “He’s still logging a ton of minutes for us on the weekends,” but his practice schedule has been adjusted to give him as much recovery time as possible. By the new year, Vaughan says, “we hope Spiro will have normal practice weeks.”

Finally, freshman Emilio Audi has finally found a niche on this team after sitting seven games as a healthy scratch. Once an odd man out, Audi cracked the lineup and made the most of it, earning ECAC Hockey rookie of the week honors last week for his goal and two assists in the North Country.

“He’s got some high offensive upside, and from our perspective, we had pretty good balance and chemistry in our lines coming into the early season, so I was struggling to find a place to put Emilio where his game would complement the guys he was playing with, and vice-versa,” Vaughan said. “We had a couple of tough outings and a couple of bumps and bruises, and it allowed us to play him in some situations where he didn’t get that opportunity early on.”

When Tylor Spink went down, Emilio stepped in on the power play, where “he took advantage of that, for sure.”

It’s a youth movement in Hamilton, for sure. Try not to act surprised when Colgate rolls on.

One in a million

Mitch Gillam is certainly thrilled, but might he also be a little bit fearful that he peaked too soon? The Cornell freshman allowed two goals on 26 shots in a 4-2 win over Niagara Tuesday night in his first collegiate game.

Oh, he also scored, which is nice.

[youtube_sc url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gQD8PmqQs_I]

With time running down and the Purple Eagles pressing with the extra attacker, Gillam confidently snared a low-angle shot in his mitt and dropped the puck at his feet. With barely a glance up ice, the goalie whisked the puck yonder into Niagara’s open net. As the rubber crossed the far goal line, Gillam officially became the first Cornell goalie to ever score a goal, and the first Division I goaltender since Western Michigan’s Mike Mantua in 2002 to score on a shot on goal. (Michigan State’s Chad Alban is the only other D-I goalie to do so, becoming the first on the three-man list in 1998.)

To be clear, other goalies have been credited with goals — Harvard’s Kyle Richter being the latest, in 2008 — but most such goals are the result of being the last player on his team to touch the puck before the opponent accidentally puts the puck into its own net, as on a delayed penalty or in an extra-attacker scenario. Only the aforementioned trio, however, actively shot a puck into an opponent’s net.

I defy anybody to find me documentation of any other goalie in the history of the sport to actively score a goal in his (or her) first game at a given level of competition (e.g. high school JV, Division I, the AHL, NHL, etc.). I can’t even recall ever seeing a college goalie shoot for the empty-net goal, much less hitting it. I therefore sustain that Gillam’s achievement — in all its coincidental, circumstantial glory — is truly a one-in-a-million goal.

Top-five tilt

Among the benefits of a Thursday column: Being able to write a few impressions of Wednesday games, such as this week’s nationally noteworthy contest between No. 4 Providence and No. 5 Quinnipiac in Hamden, Conn.

The first thing I noticed, is how much I didn’t notice. Quinnipiac fired 89 shots on net, of which 48 made it through to Providence star goalie Jon Gillies. Bobcats sports information director Ken Sweeten could not recall ever noting so many attempted shots under his watch, and yet, much of the game had a disjointed and tentative feel.

On the positive side of the ledger, the Bobcats deserved better than the draw. Beyond the final 48-22 shot disparity, Quinnipiac also earned one more power play than the Friars, and flat-out dictated play more often than not. The Bobcats appeared faster, more physical and more cohesive than their guests for most of the night.

However, the Q-Cats likely would have earned a win in regulation were it not for a pair of dispiriting giveaways in the first period. Quinnipiac has had a habit of going for long stretch passes to initiate the breakout this year, and at this point in time, the defense simply doesn’t look observant or experienced enough to pull them off with consistency.

Oh, and one more positive: Despite falling the day before Thanksgiving, with the student body on break, High Point Solutions Arena nonetheless welcomed 3,520 observers to York Hill — yet another sellout.

“We booked the game three years ago — the actual date, I think, last season,” Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold said, “but it’s one of those things where it’s hard to find weekly weekend games to play, so sometimes we have to play mid-week games. We’ve got three this week while our students are gone; we don’t want to do that, but …” he shrugged.

This game also marked a return to Hamden for former Union coach Nate Leaman, now guiding the Friars. Pecknold recognized some major characteristics in PC’s play this season from his matchups against Leaman’s Dutchmen of the past.

“I like Providence. They’re a very good hockey team,” Pecknold said. “I love their compete level, their faceoff intensity’s great — one of the best teams I’ve seen at that — and they’ve got the big guy in net, and he’s a game-changer.

“There’s some things; he’s changed a few things. I like the way Nate coaches — he always has the ability to adapt and change things up — the one thing that I think is very similar to when I coached against him [at Union] is their compete level. It’s a highly competitive team, they win a lot of battles, and that’s what reminds me of Union [under Leaman].”


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