‘Good things are happening’ for Harvard’s trio of high-end defensemen Fox, Rathbone, Walsh

Adam Fox battled against his previous team, the US National Team Development Program's Under-18, in his Harvard debut on Saturday, October 8, 2016, at Bright-Landry Hockey Center. Fox had four assists in the game. (Melissa Wade)
Adam Fox is part of an immensely-talented Harvard back end this season (photo: Melissa Wade).

Adam Fox has been getting a lot of praise this year and over the course of his three years at Harvard.

And it’s well deserved as the 2016 Calgary Flames third-round draft pick and now-Carolina Hurricanes prospect has been one of the best defensemen in the country this season as his eight goals and 30 assists lead the Crimson in scoring.

But he’s not the only highly-skilled offensive defenseman on Harvard’s roster.

Sophomore blueliner and New Jersey Devils draft pick Reilly Walsh has been outstanding in February. After going pointless against Dartmouth on Feb. 1, he has three goals and seven assists in the past seven games.

He’s now second in team scoring behind Fox.

“Reilly has really worked on his game and he’s taking on his own initiative to become a more well-rounded defenseman,” Harvard coach Ted Donato said. “I think his comfort level the way he plays defensively has freed him up offensively to be creative and make some plays off the rush or on the power play.”

At every level he has played, Walsh he has put up offensive numbers. At Proctor Academy, he recorded 64 goals and 117 assists in 122 career games. In parts of two seconds in the USHL with Tri-City and Chicago, he had three goals and nine assists in 26 games.

“I have been staying with what has gotten me here,” Walsh said. “Obviously, it’s nice to play with Fox on the power play – he sees the ice amazingly well. I am just kind of sticking with it, practicing my shot and all that stuff during practice. I just keep my focus and positive throughout the season.”

The other top-end defender is freshman and 2017 Vancouver Canucks draft pick Jack Rathbone, who has made the jump straight from prep school to Division I hockey without missing a beat. He has five goals and 11 assists in 27 games this season.

“Jack Rathbone, he gives us another guy in the back that can get out of our zone and he can really shoot the puck,” Donato said. “I think Rathbone and Walsh both benefit from watching guys like Fox and John Marino. Certainly, those guys see a lot of minutes and have played very well.”

Each factored in the 4-2 win on Friday against Brown as Walsh had a goal and Rathbone had a highlight-reel assist on Nathan Krusko’s game-winning goal.

“It was a great play by (Rathbone) — he kind of took it around the net and was looking at options out front,” Krusko said. “He wrapped it around and I went hard to the net and I was lucky it went off my skate and in.”

Also scoring Friday night was Marino, who now has three goals and seven helpers in 27 games.

Walsh had a goal and an assist Saturday night against Yale while Rathbone had a goal.

With the forwards that have come through Harvard with the likes of Jimmy Vesey, Alexander Kerfoot and Ryan Donato making their mark for the Crimson and then heading to the NHL, has the focus from the coaching staff changed their offensive philosophies with three highly-skilled defensemen on the roster?

Not exactly.

It just worked out that 26 of the Crimson’s 90 goals this season have come from the back end.

“We’ve been blessed to have offensive defensemen,” Donato said. “I think we have had as good of a string as anybody. Fox being a two-time All-American and I think before him Patrick McNally and going back to Danny Biega. We have been blessed to have some good offensive defensemen.”

As a group, the defensemen want to be part of the action.

“Just as a (defensive) core in general, we want to play fast, move the puck and follow it in the rush,” Walsh said. “That’s how the game goes nowadays. Defensemen are known to join in and create odd-man rushes. I think it’s been good this year that we have been able to join the rush and the forwards looking to (defensemen) a little more. We are just getting bounces and making hard plays at the net — good things are happening.”

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