Harvard’s balanced attack finds Crimson No. 4 in the country, PairWise

Alexander Kerfoot (Harvard - 14) - The Harvard University Crimson tied the visiting Dartmouth College Big Green 3-3 in both team's first game of the season on Saturday, November 1, 2014, at Bright-Landry Hockey Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Melissa Wade)
Alexander Kerfoot is Harvard’s captain this season and leads the Crimson with 20 points through 12 games (photo: Melissa Wade).

Harvard’s last two seasons haven’t been lacking for accolades, as the Crimson made two NCAA tournament appearances, won a league championship, and had the ECAC’s first Hobey Baker winner since 1989.

But this year appears to be building towards something bigger for the Crimson, who is currently tied for fourth in the PairWise.

“I thought they played hard last year, but last year, I thought Quinnipiac was the standard in the league for how hard you play, for being a skilled team,” said Rensselaer coach Seth Appert, whose team lost 5-1 to Harvard last Friday.

“They played hard last year, don’t get me wrong, but they seem to have more of a chip on their shoulder, like we can still be an elite team and a championship caliber team without [graduated seniors Kyle] Criscuolo and [Jimmy] Vesey,” Appert said.

Those players accounted for more than a third of Harvard’s goals last season, but this year’s team has six players averaging more than a point per game. On Friday, Ty Pelton-Byce and Eddie Ellis each scored their first goals of the season.

“I think you can tell some of the upperclassman really have an edge to win every single night and I think it really goes down to all the classes,” Pelton-Byce said.

Bolstered by the addition of freshmen Adam Fox and John Marino, the Crimson’s defense has been a good compliment to its tenacity and high-scoring offense.

“I think our defense has done a really good job of making some real poised plays with the puck to get it out of our zone and get the puck in the hands of our forwards,” Harvard coach Ted Donato said. “[Associate head coach] Paul Pearl does a tremendous job with those guys [and] we’ve seen them continue to develop and get better.”

Frozen Four hangover for Quinnipiac?

The Bobcats got off to a good start in the Three Rivers Classic last weekend, beating Boston College to advance to the title game against Robert Morris.

But the Colonials scored five unanswered goals en route to a 5-2 win and a tournament championship. The loss was Quinnipiac’s fifth in its last seven games.

“We’ve got to get our buy-in level to 100 percent, which is what is was last year,” Bobcats coach Rand Pecknold said. “There’s some blind faith in by the players in the coaching staff and what we do and why we win. Right now, that buy-in level is at 75 to 85 percent. They’re just not all in right now – they’re great kids and it’s a great locker room.”

Quinnipiac lost plenty of key players from last year’s national-runner up team. But losing players and remaining competitive has been a trademark of the Bobcats the last few seasons, thanks in part to players following the systems Pecknold and his coaching staff have in place.

“We kind of expect things to go our way because they did last year,” Pecknold said. “We forget that things went our way last year because our work ethic was off the charts, our commitment was off the charts, and the coachability was phenomenal. We’re still having a good year and we’ll focus on getting better and getting ready for Harvard.”

RPI looking for a stronger second half

It couldn’t have gone much worse for Rensselaer in the first half. The Engineers entered the semester break on a four-game losing streak and a 3-16-1 record.

Friday’s 5-1 loss at Harvard looked like more of the same on the surface, but Appert saw several things he liked from his team against the Crimson.

“We made some mistakes, but I liked a lot that we did,” Appert said. “We’re young and we’re immature and we’ve got good players out of the lineup.”

The Engineers are inexperienced at center and defense. Sophomore defenseman Tommy Grant is out for the year with an injury, meaning several freshmen are in the lineup on a regular basis.

Three of RPI’s four centers on Friday have little college experience. Jacob Hayhurst is a true freshman, while sophomores Evan Tironese and Brady Wiffen had played a combined six college games entering this season. Tironese was injured for most of last year, while Wiffen sat out due to being rule a partial qualifier by the NCAA.

Appert knows that RPI’s record won’t get the Engineers an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament.

“There’s three things we’re trying to key in on; we’re trying to shoot the puck more, we want to limit the number of power plays we give opponents – we took way too many penalties due to immaturity in the first half of the year. The last thing is that we want to win more faceoffs.”

However, it can be hard for a team to see improvements when the losses keep adding up. That’s where Appert said the coaching staff and team’s veteran players need to keep the Engineers’ morale high.

“We’ve got to stay positive, stay together and stay focused on real simple things that we can control,” Appert said. “We believe that after analyzing the first half that if we do those things we’re going to give ourselves a great chance to win March and earn a chance to Lake Placid. That’s what its’s about nnow; we’re not going to get an NCAA tournament berth based on our record. We’re not happy with the first half, but we can’t dwell on it.”

Around the League

• Brown’s game against Arizona State on Friday featured a frantic final 10 minutes. The teams combined for six goals, with the Bears scoring with 15 seconds left in regulation to tie the score at 8-8. The Bears won on 3-on-3 double overtime goal by Max Willman, but the game will count as a tie for NCAA purposes. Junior Charlie Corcoran had a career-high five-point game with four goals and an assist.

• Corcoran’s career night earned him the league’s player of the week award. He was joined by Colgate’s Bobby McMann (rookie) and Harvard’s Merrick Madsen (goalie).

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