Don't Count Harvard Out
Crimson Have Plenty Firepower Left in the Tank
In the last half decade, Ted Donato has rebuilt Harvard into an ECAC power. Last year this build culminated with a dominating season in the league, a second ECAC title in three seasons, and a Frozen Four Berth, the program's first since it won the national title in 1989.
Considering just five years ago it was coming off two consecutive bottom-two seasons in the ECAC, Harvard's resurgence was a long time in coming and one that many wondered if it could ever happen again. The talent was there but whether or not it could ever come together was the ultimate question.
But the mark of a great program is not whether it can rebuild but reload, year-after-year. Will the success be sustainable and can Harvard continue to flourish in a tough national landscape?
The true test of this will come this year and based on its opener against Dartmouth, it should be just fine.
A Frozen Four berth often comes with a world of changes and the Crimson were not immune. In the offseason, they lost most of their top six forwards; the class of forwards that ultimately led them back to national and league prominence.
"Our guys are excited about having a great season," Harvard coach Ted Donato said. "Just like last year's group wanted to prove they could still be successful without the great players from the year before, this group wants to do the same. It will be different, but that is the exciting part of each new year."
Harvard lost Hobey winner Jimmy Vesey after making the NCAAs two years ago, and yet came back even stronger last season. Now, mames like Sean Malone, Tyler Moy, Alex Kerfoot and Luke Esposito, who not only provided a scoring punch but also leadership, are gone. Of course losing 72 goals and 168 points is going to be tough, but experience in college hockey can go a long way.
"Those guys (we lost) were really good players," Donato said. "Now we have a new group and they will need to prove themselves. We will be able to be dangerous but the challenge will we whether we are able to score when the game is on the line. Last year we were able to. It is a new year and a new challenge."
Despite the losses up front, Harvard still has a wealth of riches that many teams would love to have. It enters the year with a pair of Hobey candidates — forward Ryan Donato and defenseman Adam Fox.
As a whole, its defense is one of the more talented in college hockey, one that includes John Marino, Wiley Sherman and Jacob Olson, and it added even more talent. Of course it helps to have goaltender Merrick Madsen back, as well.
"It won't be by choice," Donato said on whether this talent glut on the backend will lead to stylistic changes. "We want to play fast, we want to be a puck possession team and generate a ton of offense. But every coach in the country says that. I think we will be different because we lost a ton of experience. We will take time to establish a team identity."
Ryan Donato will now be tasked with being the top dog, in terms of scoring, and leading a young charge. The junior has also moved to center from wing. It is a big change, but against the Big Green he looked right at home at both ends. He scored a pair of goals in the shutout win.
"Obviously we have great seniors but I am a guy who tries to lead by example," Ryan Donato said. "Center is different and I am kind of adjusting to it still. But I like getting the puck with speed. I am glad the way it is going."
He is one of three new centers for the Crimson, a group that should be very quick. Only Jake Horton returns among the group.
"In all sports you want to be strong up the middle," Ted Donato said. "The center-ice position is key to defending down low and outnumbering teams' attack. Speed in the middle of the ice and the ability to play 200 feet is helpful in all facets of the game. We lost two that played a lot of minutes, but have guys that are capable of doing well there."
Along with Donato, others will need to step-up in order for the Crimson to be as high-flying as they have been. Some of those names include Horton, Lewis Zerter-Gossage, Seb Lloyd and others.
"Last year we had a lot of guys that weren't getting the roles they wanted, but they worked hard in the offseason," Ryan Donato said. "Now that they are getting their chance, I think they will do well with it."
Along with the new roles for its upperclassmen, Harvard also dressed three freshmen up front and another pair on the blueline. On Saturday, Henry Bowlby was the most impressive. He had a goal, but also had other chances. Jack Badini showed his speed and will add that wrinkle, while Reilly Walsh on the blueline comes in highly touted. All three seemed to adjust well on Sunday and all made impacts.
"Obviously with any group it takes a a few weeks to get acclimated," Madsen said. "Our freshmen have come in and done a good job. They will make a big impact on our team. We will be missing a lot with the guys that left but I also think other guys will step up."
All the changes have the ability to debilitate some teams and stunt growth, but it appears that Harvard has retooled and reloaded for another run in the ECAC and on the national level.