Is This the Year For Harvard?
by Joshua Seguin/Staff Writer
Stop us if you've heard this before. This could be the year Harvard finally wins another Beanpot and makes an NCAA tournament run.
Despite many outstanding teams in recent years, Harvard hasn't won an NCAA tournament game since 1994, and hasn't won The Beanpot since 1993.
This year, however, the confidence is as high as it's ever been. And rolling into Beanpot final Monday against Boston University, Harvard has every right to be that confident, with a seven-game winning streak and No. 4 position in the Pairwise.
"Our lack of success has been pretty well documented," said Harvard coach Ted Donato. "There are only a few things you have a chance to win. I don't mean to downplay anything about the Beanpot, but until you get a chance to play in the late game on that second Monday night that is really when you get that energy going and really a great sense of what the tournament is all about."
To say it would be a special moment, finally winning the legendary annual Boston-area tournament, would be an understatement. It would be especially sweet for local boys Ryan Donato and Devin Tringale, who both understand the allure of it and are looking forward to the exposure of playing in the big show.
"Devin and I were talking one time and we were mentioning how there are certain goals as a player you just dream of," said Ryan Donato, who had four goals against Union on Friday night. "A Stanley Cup goal, a national championship goal and one of the big ones for us Boston guys is a Beanpot goal.
"Obviously going for a championship and putting something back in the trophy case here would be a great thing. We are just really excited about it, but we don't want to get complacent with our game. The boys just want to get going and get to Monday."
Ryan Donato could of course follow in the footsteps of his father and coach, Ted, who won a Beanpot in 1989. That 1989 Harvard team also went on to win the national championship.
The Beanpot has a weird aura that often sends the champion on a long run into tournaments at both the national and conference level. That has certainly been true over the last couple of decades for Boston University and Boston College, who have dominated the trophy. And BU is still the favorite this year, coming into the final rated No. 3 in the Pairwise, a slot ahead of Harvard.
"I am happy for our players to experience this," Ted Donato said. "This is a group that has been able to play in the NCAA tournament the last couple of years and the ECAC championship game as well. They want to have these opportunities again at the end of this season and this is a good opportunity for them as well."
Harvard will also have a chance to end another long drought within its conference over the next couple of weeks. It hasn't won an ECAC regular-season title — now named the Cleary Cup, after the program's old mentor — since 1994. Harvard is one point back of Union, who the Crimson defeated going away on Friday night.
That game against Union could have easily have been a trap game, instead the Crimson came out of it brimming in confidence.
"Coming out and playing well (against Union)," said Tringale. "Union is a very good team and hopefully we can just continue to build on it."
Regardless of where it finishes within the conference, it will enter the league's tournament as the odds-on favorite. It won the Whitelaw Cup in 2015 as the league's tournament champion. It has made the ECAC championship game and NCAA tournament each of the last two seasons.
Harvard almost always has the talent to be competing for trophies but it struggles to do so. For some reason, this year's team just plays different, and despite losing Hobey Baker Award winner Jimmy Vesey from last year's team, it seems as though it has the correct pieces.
"The one thing as a coaching staff that we can count on with this team is we have excellent leadership," Ted Donato said. "We have guys like (Alex) Kerfoot, Sean (Malone) and Tringale that come to the rink with a purpose and do a great job on the bench when things do get a little scrambled."
The Crimson had a rough stretch of games in mid-January, dropping a pair of games against two of the worst teams in the ECAC and another against Union, all on the road. Since an 8-4 loss to Dartmouth that ended the three-game skid, the Crimson are back to being themselves.
"I think the team just needed to get back to basics and back to playing our game," goaltender Merrick Madsen said. "For a little bit there, we had gotten away from that and gotten a bit complacent and a little too comfortable.
"We needed that three-game stretch to realize that we had to play our game, we can't just show up to places and magically get wins. That lesson is now carrying us through the good streak we are one now."
Even the best teams can lose confidence and have bad weeks.
"It was easy to recognize on video that we had gotten away from doing things we do well," Coach Donato said. "We were able to unwind and realize what we need to do to have success."
That stretch defined them for a bit after, but other than that, Harvard has been one of the best teams in the nation. Its offense is third in the nation, scoring 3.96 goals per game, and it has the second-best goal margin (+1.67).
The Crimson have a tough Matchup against BU on Monday night in the Beanpot final. The teams met in November, with BU taking a 5-3 decision.
"Our guys are certainly excited about it," Ted Donato said. "Our guys also know that team down Commonwealth Ave. is a heck of a hockey team and we are going to have play our best to have success."
This Crimson team has its fans thinking trophies or Beanpots or whatever. This team is just different. The final could be extremely special or very gut wrenching for that other team in Boston.