By Dan Rubin
“Failure is not an option.” –Apollo 13
For the Harvard Crimson, hockey is as much a part of the university fabric as the ivy covered walls, presidential alumni, and regal greatness. From 1980-2008, they endured zero seasons in which they won less than ten games. They qualified for 14 national tournaments. They appeared in three national championship games. They won one national title.
But since 2007-2008, the fall from grace was as much humbling as it was sudden.
Harvard entered the final week of the regular season as the lowest seeded team in ECAC. They were enduring a season in which they had been pummeled from pillar to post. There was the seven game losing streak from November 13-December 8. Then there was the second streak of six in a row. They entered the Beanpot tournament [4-17-0]. They were shutout by Northeastern, 4-0, and message boards lit up calling for the head of head coach Ted Donato.
Then, something clicked. Harvard rattled off a [5-0-1] record to close the season, leapfrogging Colgate and St. Lawrence with a three-game sweep in final week of Brown, St. Lawrence, and Clarkson. And they swoop into the playoffs as the most dangerous 10-seed the tournament has seen. Fresh off the 3-1 win against Clarkson, the Crimson gain a redux with the Knights in Potsdam, NY. And now, the Crimson hope to accomplish the same thing Brown did the last two years – advance to the ECAC Quarterfinals or beyond on the heels of a playoff-ready team that endured the tribulations of the roughest season on record. For the Crimson, it might be as much about saving their coach’s job as it is about restoring a luster damaged by recent failure.
#10 Harvard Crimson at #7 Clarkson Knights
Head-to-Head: 11/13/10 at Clarkson – Clarkson 3-1; 2/25/11 at Harvard – Harvard 3-1
Tale of the Tape: The Crimson haven’t scored a ton of goals, but they haven’t allowed a ton either. They averaged a hair over two goals a game but allowed a shade under three. Credit goalies Kyle Richter and Ryan Carroll. Richter, no relation to Mike Richter of former NHL glory with the NY Rangers, allows less goals. But Carroll went 6-8, and he’s played the majority of games as of late. Expect him to start. The Knights will counter with Brandon DeFazio and Allan McPherson. McPherson has three game winning goals and 13 assists as a freshman. DeFazio potted 13 goals for an offense that features 18 players with more than one goal this season. Paul Karpowich was his usual sterling self in net, winning 15 of 33 starts.
X-Factor: Danny Biega is the last Biega at Harvard. He’s the third member of the family to continuously suit up with the Crimson, a much hyped breed that was supposed to bring Hobey Baker after Hobey Baker to Cambridge. Well…that didn’t happen, but the youngest Biega is a dynamo. He has 25 points as a defenseman, including 10 goals, which ranks second on the team. And although he averages less than two penalty minutes a game, don’t let it fool you – he’s an instigator. There’s been more than one time I’ve yelled out that Biega should’ve had a penalty and didn’t. He can kill teams if they don’t shut him down. And, since Harvard doesn’t have great forwards, he’s the answer to Donato’s prayers.
I’d be remised if I didn’t mention the coaching matchup here. Donato will most likely be coaching this playoffs for his career at Harvard. This is now his 7th year at the helm. That means every guy in the program is his recruit and has been for three years. Coincidentally, the Crimson haven’t won ten games in each of this years, and they haven’t made the NCAA tournament since 2006. At Harvard, that’s inexcusable.
Prediction: As a journalist, I have to call it professionally. That’s why it pains me so much to take Harvard, 2 games to 1, in the first round over Clarkson. I’ll be perfectly honest – growing up in Boston, I don’t like Harvard. I never did. I don’t know why, but I just always felt like Harvard was miles away from the neighborhood it resides in. It’s too white collar for my taste, and the air of arrogance it can sometimes portray in pop culture really rubs the blue collar Boston attitude the wrong way sometimes. But they’re too talented, and they’re the hot team. I’m picking them, and they’re going to Yale next week. This is the one team that can make some noise out of the lower bracket.