After disappointing seasons, Harvard hopes it has pieces in place

Kyle Criscuolo had 11 goals for Harvard last season (photo: Melissa Wade).

Following a last-place finish in 2012-13 and a tied-for-10th finish last year, Harvard believes that this is the year for a return to respectability.

“A major issue for us last year was that we did not score enough for us to be dangerous offensively night in and night out,” said coach Ted Donato. This year, he said, the pieces are in place for a “fast and dangerous team.”

Both may be true, but we know the former for sure: By March of last season, the Crimson had mustered only 44 goals in 22 league games, tied for the fewest in the conference.

No team in the ECAC had scored fewer since eighth-place Union’s 43 goals in 2004-05. Sophomores Jimmy Vesey and Kyle Criscuolo led the team with 13 and 11 goals, respectively, but only three other players even managed to break the five-goal mark.

This year, however, hopes to bear greater fruit in Cambridge.

“Our depth up front is as good as it’s been in the last few years,” Donato said. “Last year, eight of our nine top forwards were freshmen or sophomores.”

Donato is now banking on last year’s youth becoming this year’s production. It’s worth noting that the Crimson aren’t a scrappy pack of mid-level talent: This year’s roster carries nine NHL draft picks, and may welcome back another in San Jose Sharks prospect Colin Blackwell, who did not play last season.

In back, dynamic goalie Raphael Girard has moved on, but on-again, off-again starter (and Minnesota Wild pick) Steve Michalek is back for his senior season. His .921 save percentage and 2.47 GAA look pretty good, but he was plagued by lapses in concentration — or at least consistency — that kept him from wrestling the No. 1 tag outright.

“Steve Michalek played well for stretches last year,” Donato said, “but we’re in a bottom-line industry. Our goaltending, like many other areas of our team, will have to improve.”

Should Michalek’s numbers maintain or improve, Harvard will be in good position to make a dramatic step up from its six-win 2012-13 and 2013-14 conference seasons.

About the Crimson

2013-14 overall record: 10-17-4

2013-14 ECAC Hockey record: 6-12-4 (tie, 10th)

2014-15 predicted finish: Ninth in coaches poll, 10th in media poll

Key losses: G Raphael Girard

Players to watch: F Kyle Criscuolo, G Steve Michalek, F Jimmy Vesey, F Alexander Kerfoot

Impact rookies: F Seb Lloyd, G Merrick Madsen, D Wiley Sherman

Why the Crimson will finish higher than predicted: The offense will deliver the kind of punch that it has teased at for years, but never totally delivered; the defense and goaltending will improve on last season’s .918 team save percentage and 2.64 GAA.

Why the Crimson will finish lower than predicted: The goals simply won’t come often enough, and the defense and goaltending will once again be ground into submission by opponents that know they can take aggressive risks on the forecheck.