The Harvard Crimson open their 108th regular season on October 29th when they host Ivy League rival Dartmouth at the Bright Center in one of the early must-see ECACHL matches of the season.
Last season, Harvard made their fourth consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament behind some excellent goaltending and a defense that ranked second in the nation, allowing a miniscule 1.88 goals against (on average) per game.
Coming into the 2005-06 season, there will be some questions that Harvard will need to address with the departure of some key players, specifically on the defensive side.
The most pressing question is in goal. Dov Grumet-Morris, who has etched his name into the Harvard hockey history books, has graduated. Grumet-Morris started most of the games last season and was the backbone of the Crimson team that earned their fourth consecutive berth in the NCAA Tournament. He finished his final collegiate season with a sensational 19-6-3 record that included six shutouts. He finished second in the nation in shutouts and goals against average (1.63). He was tied for first with a stellar .947 save percentage and earned numerous honors including a selection to both the ECACHL All-Conference and All-Ivy League Second teams.
With the loss of Grumet-Morris, the starting job is up for grabs and with it the three relatively inexperienced goaltenders vying for the job. Junior Justin Tobe saw time in three games as backup last season, posting a 2-1-0 record. Senior John Daigneau saw time in two games and posted no decisions. Freshman Mike Coskren, who comes to Harvard from St. Sebastian’s (USHSE), will also be competing for playing time as well.
In addition to the loss in net, the Crimson also lost two outstanding defensemen in a pair of Pittsburgh Penguins prospects Noah Welch and Ryan Lannon also to graduation.
Welch, who earned both ECAC All-Conference and All-Ivy League First team honors as well as All-American East First team honors, leaves behind a highly decorated four-year career at Harvard as well as becoming the school’s all-time penalties leader (131) and second in total career penalty minutes (270). He finished his final season with 18 points (six goals, 12 assists) playing in all 34 games. All six of Welch’s goals came on the power play.
Lannon, who earned All-Ivy League second team honors last year, also finishes a stellar four-year career at Harvard playing in 138 total games. He finished last season with 13 points (one goal, 12 assists) and co-led the team in plus/minus (+25).
With the loss of Welch and Lannon, the leadership role falls to two superb returning defensemen in senior Peter Hafner (FLA) and junior Dylan Reese (NYR). The rock-solid Hafner will serve as team captain this season. He, along with Welch made up arguably the most imposing blue line duo in the ECACHL last season. Hafner finished with five points (two goals, three assists) playing in all 34 games.
After a freshman campaign that saw him struggle with injuries, Reese emerged last season as one of the top defensemen in the ECACHL conference. He led all Crimson defensemen in scoring with 19 points (seven goals, 12 assists) in 34 appearances. He, along with his defensive partner Lannon, co-led the team in plus/minus (+25) last season.
Both Hafner and Reese lead a returning defensive corps that will provide a solid foundation and help stabilize the Harvard defense this season.
The Crimson will also welcome two freshmen to the blue line corps in Jack Christian and Brian McCafferty. Both players will add size to an already huge defense.
Christian, an imposing defensive defenseman at 6’2/225 lbs and noted for his superb skating ability, comes to Harvard from the Taft School (USHSE).
McCafferty (6’0/205 lbs.) comes to Harvard from Belmont Hill High School in Massachusetts. He is noted for his size, strength and possesses some good offensive ability.
Up front, the Crimson lost four players to graduation in Tom Cavanagh (SJ), Brendan Bernakevitch, Rob Flynn and Andrew Lederman.
Cavanagh capped a sensational Harvard career with one of the team’s two unanimous selections (Welch is the other) to the All-Ivy League First team as well as taking home the ECACHL’s Defensive Forward of the Year honor. Interestingly, he takes home the award having led the Crimson in scoring for the second consecutive year. He finished his final year with 29 points (ten goals, 19 assists) in 34 games. Where he proved to be particularly invaluable to the Crimson last season was on faceoffs, winning better than 60 percent of the draws.
The outstanding playmaking Bernakevitch leaves Harvard having topped the century mark in career games (116). He finished his final season with 18 points (five goals, 13 assists) in 31 appearances.
The strapping Flynn saw time mainly in a checking role last season. In his final season, he had eight points (four goals, four assists) in 29 games.
Lederman enjoyed perhaps his greatest season in the crimson, black and white. He finished fourth on the team with 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) in 26 appearances. Four of his six goals came on the power play.
With the four forwards gone, returning players such as sophomore Jon Pelle, junior Ryan Maki (NSH), and senior Charlie Johnson will all be relied upon to help pick up the offensive production.
The diminutive Pelle enjoyed a sensational freshman campaign for Harvard last season. He finished second on the team with 25 points (eight goals, 17 assists) in 34 games. Pelle established himself as an excellent playmaker as well as one of the Crimson’s most exciting freshmen last season.
Maki, a Nashville Predators selection in the 2005 NHL Draft, saw playing time on Harvard’s top line with Cavanagh and Bernakevitch and as a result saw his numbers increase dramatically. He finished the season with 19 points (ten goals, nine assists). His ten goals co-led the team.
Johnson continues to be one of Harvard’s most consistent offensive players. He finished his junior campaign with 19 points (nine goals, tem assists) in 30 appearances. Of his nine goals, six came on the power play. He co-led the Crimson in that category. He posted at least one point in 18 of 30 games last season. In addition to offense, Johnson will provide some solid leadership up front as well.
One player well worth watching this season is sophomore Tyler Magura. He saw much of his playing time on the imposing fourth line with Flynn and current sophomore Dave Watters. Magura was very impressive in his rookie season, particularly in his ability to score timely goals. He finished his freshman season with seven points (three goals, four assists). He was one of only three players on the team to score a short-handed goal. He capped his initial season with being named the co-recipient (along with Pelle) of Harvard’s George Percy, which is award to the team’s top rookie.
Along with the returning forwards, Harvard welcomes a superb group of newcomers up front that include Jimmy Fraser, Steve Rolocek and Nick Snow.
Fraser comes to Harvard from the U.S. National Team Development Program (USNTDP), where he had 22 points (four goals, 18 assists) and 72 penalty minutes in 42 appearances last season. He is noted for his solid all-around play.
Rolocek comes to Harvard from Phillips-Andover Academy. He captained the Big Blue last season and was among the team’s top scorers, posting well over 20 points. He is noted for his superb skating and offensive prowess.
Snow comes to Harvard from the New England Junior Falcons (EJHL), where he had 28 points (16 goals, 12 assists) in 47 games. He is noted for his size (6’3/210 lbs.), outstanding puck handling ability and being ultra-competitive.
Returning most of their top scoring players as well as bringing in a freshmen class that will be expected to make significant offensive contributions, Harvard is hoping to improve their overall scoring output this season. The Crimson scored 133 goals during the 2002-03 season. Since then, that number has decline each year. The Crimson’s goal scoring fell to 104 in the 2003-04 season and last year that number dropped again to 98. In the two most recent seasons, Harvard’s team offense ranked in the middle of the pack nationally and averaging fewer than three goals per game.
How well and how far Harvard goes in the hotly contested ECACHL and beyond this season will be determined by how solid and consistent their goaltending is. While increased offense will certainly help the Crimson’s cause, goaltending still remains to be the biggest concern for Harvard coming into the 2005-06 season.
(Number of NHL prospects on 2005-06 roster: 5)
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