Less and More
Donato Has Harvard Churning Towards Improbable 5th Straight NCAAs
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
After four NCAA appearances in four years — and no wins to show for it — it was assumed by most that Harvard would take a step back this season.
But near the midway point, no matter what happens from here, it is apparent that Ted Donato, who took over before last season, is building some serious credentials.
Donato has been able to take the talent that was already being accumulated, switch styles on them midstream, and get them to buy in, all while not losing a step. He then added his own fresh faces, and the mix this season has been something even more than what there was before.
Mark Mazzoleni helped get Harvard back on the map in his five seasons as head coach, but his teams had the frustrating tendency to underachieve, lose non-conference games, and never quite get over the hump, despite the talented roster that was assembled. When Donato came in last year, using all Mazzoleni recruits, he set about changing the atmosphere. He instilled a system that relied on speed, and reinstilled confidence in many players.
But when last season ended with yet another tough NCAA loss, and numerous top-notch seniors graduated, 2005-06 figured to be a rebuilding year.
All that's happened this year, however, is Harvard is winning even more impressively than before, pulling out some big non-league games already this year. It's happening with a quick, opportunistic offense, a defense anchored by Dylan Reese and Peter Hafner, and a goaltender in John Daigneau who has quickly and comfortably stepped into the No. 1 goalie role.
"From a talent standpoint, we had a team last year that was bigger and more experienced," said Donato. "I do think we're quicker up front and better offensively as a team. Last year there were times we could physically impose our will on teams and change the momentum of a game. I don't know if we can now, but we can intimidate teams with speed.
"When I watch other teams, I'm not sure we're that much faster, but I think we play a style that's built to utilize our speed."
The Hafner and Reese duo on the backline is interesting. They provide much of the team's leadership.
"We had such a dominant class personality wise (last year) with (Dov Grumet-)Morris, (Noah) Welch, (Ryan) Lannon, that's one of the things that worried me — where will we find leadership," Donato said. "When we're one goal down on the road, who says 'We're OK here'?"
Donato said Hafner has fit in as a captain well, but the team's identity is "still being established."
Reese also helps out, but his game is otherwise well-rounded at this point. And Donato can't help but raving.
"Flat out, I think the best defenseman in the East is Dylan Reese," said Donato. "He can single-handedly break the puck out of the zone. I thought he was superb last year. He got overshadowed. He gives us a high, high-end guy back there."
Harvard is coming off a grueling stretch of games, that concluded with a 1-0 win over New Hampshire. Now, the Crimson will have a relatively inactive stretch, starting tonight against Dartmouth, followed by a two-week break, two games at North Dakota, and then getting into the usual weekend routine from there on out (with the Beanpot games thrown in).
"The schedule will help us down the road physically and mentally," Donato said. "I think we can be a lot better. ... Offensively I expect a lot more out of us."
Only Dan Murphy (9) has more than four goals, but the talent from Jon Pelle, Paul Dufault, Ryan Maki, and freshmen like Jimmy Fraser and Nick Coskren is evident in tantalizing bursts.
You are left with the impression that things will only get better for Harvard, and it's a welcome sight for a program that was once dominant in the East.
"Last year we were trying to break in new systems from head to toe, so it was a lot of not only putting in what we wanted, but we also tried to eliminate what we didn't want that was already there," Donato said. "And this year, we're returning 20 guys that know what the coaches want — maybe now we throw in new things, become more versatile, because guys understand the basics now."