UPDATED: March 18, 2016, at 6:52 p.m.
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — One year after hoisting the Whitelaw Cup for the first time in nine years, the Harvard men’s hockey team is back in Lake Placid to defend its title.
But the whole defending part? That’s “old news,” says coach Ted Donato ’91.
Fresh off its 2014-2015 title, the No. 9/9 Crimson finished 12-6-4 in ECAC play this year, good for third in the conference. After earning a first-round bye, Harvard then swept Rensselaer in the quarterfinals at the Bright-Landry Hockey Center, earning it a trip back to Herb Brooks Arena.
At the world-famous rink, Harvard will square off against No. 17/- St. Lawrence in the second of two semifinal matchups Friday night at approximately 7:36 p.m.
Check back to TheCrimson.com for live updates.
TALE OF THE TAPE
The Crimson and the Saints squared off twice in 2016, with Harvard taking both games. St. Lawrence tamed the Crimson in its own building for two periods on Jan. 15, but a third-period hat trick for Jimmy Vesey—the first of the Hobey hopeful’s career—allowed Harvard to escape with a 3-2 victory.
Then in both sides’ regular season finale, the Crimson spoiled the Saints’ senior night, scoring twice in the final four minutes to close out a 4-1 win over the hosts. The result landed Harvard the third seed in the conference tournament and St. Lawrence the fourth.
Each matchup featured a drastically different style of play. Classify the first as a defensive battle—the two sides combined for less than than 30 shots through two periods before Vesey gave Harvard life in the final 20 minutes.
One month later, however, offense was aplenty as the two sides blew away their shot total at the Bright, combining for 35 in the first period alone. But the two netminders were up to the task. Harvard goaltender Merrick Madsen had one of the best games of his young career, stopping 38 of the 39 shots he saw, while St. Lawrence’s Kyle Hayton made 35 saves of his own.
On the Olympic-sized sheet of ice at Herb Brooks Arena, the frantic end-to-end action that highlighted the regular season finale likely won’t be repeated Friday night.
“It [makes for] a little bit more of a controlled and less chaotic game because you have a little more time to make a play,” said senior defenseman Desmond Bergin about the bigger ice. “It’s more about puck possession as opposed to just shooting.”
Nonetheless, there’s no reason to believe that Harvard, who averages 33 shots per game, will see its shot total diminish in Lake Placid. On the Olympic sized-ice at Mariucci Arena earlier this season, the Crimson logged 74 shots in two games.
“I think playing on the big ice surface really plays to our advantage,” senior defenseman Brayden Jaw said. “One of the strengths of our team is that we’re extremely fast and extremely skilled, so I think playing on an Olympic Sheet is definitely going to help us for sure.”
Sophomore defenseman Wiley Sherman will not be in the lineup after the 6’7” blue-liner suffered an upper body injury on Saturday in Game 2 of the Crimson’s quarterfinals series with Rensselaer.
The Boston Bruins draft selection has played in all 31 games this season and has recorded four goals, a team-high among defensemen. The sophomore has also logged six assists and boasts a plus-nine rating.
Taking Sherman’s place on Harvard’s second defensive unit alongside Brayden Jaw will be freshman Adam Baughman. Sophomore Thomas Aiken, who has played in just four games this season, will skate with rookie Viktor Dombrovskiy on the third pairing.
“Our team as a whole has a lot of depth,” said junior forward Tyler Moy, who told The Crimson on Tuesday that he could not comment on the injury but did address the possibility of Sherman being sidelined.
“I don’t think our game plan changes, whatever lineup combination there is," he said. "We have a lot of confidence in the players we have, so whatever happens, I think we’ll be prepared.”
“We have no excuses whatsoever,” he added.
Moy, meanwhile, will return to the lineup to center the fourth line after missing three straight games with a lower body injury.
THE SCOOP ON THE SAINTS
St. Lawrence’s top playmakers line up in the defensive end. Backed by Hayton, who sits just three percentage points behind Yale’s Alex Lyon for the top save percentage in the conference, the Saints also feature three defenseman with 15 points or more. By comparison, the Crimson have none.
Junior Gavin Bayreuther, who was named a first-team all-ECAC honoree this week, leads the defensive pack for St. Lawrence. His 11 goals and 28 points are not only team-highs; they lead all ECAC defensemen. Junior associate captain Eric Sweetman, a second-team all-ECAC honoree, has 15 points, and his defensive partner—sophomore Nolan Gluchowski—has 16 of his own, including six goals.
On offense, while the Saints may lack a “go-to” scoring weapon, they boast one of the most balanced attacks in the ECAC—one that has seen five different forwards score either nine or 10 goals this year. St. Lawrence’s top line features junior Drew Smolcynski on the right wing and captain Brian Ward, a Haverhill, Mass., native, at center. Freshman Jacob Pritchard, who cracked the ECAC Media Association’s All-Rookie team, plays the left wing and has at least a point in each of his last 12 games.
WHAT’S AT STAKE
The winner of the bout will face No. 1/1 Quinnipiac, who defeated Dartmouth by a 3-1 margin in the first semifinals matchup, on Saturday in the ECAC championship game with an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament on the line.
While the Saints will likely need to sweep the weekend to go dancing, Harvard could still hear its name called on Selection Sunday if it fails to raise the Whitelaw Cup yet again. However, according to an analysis performed by college hockey expert Jim Dahl, the Crimson’s odds of receiving an at-large bid would grow substantially if it can advance to Saturday.
If Harvard beats St. Lawrence but falls in the championship game, the probability of the Crimson reaching the NCAA tournament is 98 percent, per Dahl. If Harvard falls on Friday, however, that probability would slip to 73 percent.
Nonetheless, the Crimson can increase those odds to 100 percent with two wins this weekend, and that—unsurprisingly—is what Harvard is after.“If you don’t win,” Bergin said, “you’re probably going home.
—Staff writer Jake Meagher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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