Frozen Four preview: Harvard relishing first semifinal berth in 23 seasons

 (Tim Brule)
Harvard captured the East Regional two weekends ago with wins over Providence and Air Force (photo: Melissa Wade).

It’s been a while since Harvard has been to the Frozen Four.

To be exact, it has been 23 seasons and before that, current Crimson coach Ted Donato was on the only Harvard men’s team to win the national championship back in 1989. He’s not going to be looking at his past experience preparing for the 2017 Frozen Four.

Frozen Four 2017

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He’s only concerned getting the 2016-17 version of the Crimson prepped for Minnesota Duluth on April 6.

“We just want to have confidence and go play our game, really focus on what we bring to the table,” Donato said. “Obviously at this point, there’s tremendous teams left, teams that have had great success. I just want to make sure the focus is on what we play, what we bring to the table, to bring confidence. If we do that, we will have our focus in the right place.”

At the same time, he’s happy for his players for capturing the East Regional as Harvard hadn’t won an NCAA tournament game since that 1993-94 team.

“It’s exciting [and] I am proud and very excited for our players that have earned this opportunity,” Donato said. “It’s very difficult to get here and these guys have answered every challenge thus far. I am excited to see us to play some great hockey in Chicago.”

What does Harvard bring to the table?

Well, for starters, the Crimson has the highest scoring team in the nation, averaging 4.18 goals per game. On the defensive side of the puck, they are equally as strong as the young defensive core and junior goalie Merrick Madsen has only allowed 2.14 goals per game.

Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson made an interesting point during the Frozen Four coaches conference call when asked what’s the difference from when he took Lake Superior State to the Frozen Four in three straight years from 1992 to 1994 to now.

“Well, I don’t think it’s any different than the late ’80s and early ’90s,” Jackson said. “The level of competition has been always really good. The one difference is probably is back then, you actually had senior classes, which doesn’t happen any more in college hockey. Usually, that means everybody goes into it a little bit of a younger group. It varies year to year. We actually had a senior class last year that did a great job for us. I think your high-end players are generally freshmen and sophomores, sometimes you will get a junior in there that sneaked through the system. But for me, it’s how you are playing at that time of the year more than anything else.”

What does that have to do with the Crimson? They do have a senior class that has made an impact in scoring 78 of the team’s 148 goals this season.

While Tyler Moy, Alexander Kerfoot and Sean Malone are impact senior players, Harvard also has those quality freshmen and sophomores that have improved as the year has gone on. Case in point: Adam Fox leads all NCAA freshmen defensemen in scoring with five goals and 36 assists for 41 points.

Ryan Donato has come along in the second half of his sophomore campaign; 26 of his 41 points have come after Christmas. He had only 21 points as a freshman.

Ted Donato said the unfamiliarity of the Bulldogs won’t be an issue.

“In this day and age there’s no such thing as an unknown quantity or commodity,” Donato said. “There’s so much video, so much games on TV. We all recruit at such a global level now that we are familiar with their players, they are familiar with ours. I don’t see that being an advantage or a disadvantage.”

Harvard will be a new opponent for the Bulldogs, who faced Denver and Notre Dame at the beginning of the season. UMD coach Scott Sandelin is ready for the challenge despite not seeing the Crimson during the regular season.

“I don’t think it really matters,” said Sandelin. “Obviously, we saw Notre Dame earlier in the year and Denver before Christmas. Both teams are certainly a little bit different teams now – both are good teams that are playing well. When we went on that run in 2011, we saw four new opponents. Sometimes that’s good, sometimes familiarity is good, but it doesn’t matter at this time of the year. Whoever you are playing is a good team. Certainly, (Harvard) is a very talented team that’s on a pretty good winning streak, so we just have to figure out a way to beat them.”