Harvard hopes depth will provide an instant impact

For the first time in a half-decade, Harvard put together a truly sharp campaign. The 2011-12 season was record-setting for its number of ties (11, a national record, and a league-record nine ECAC draws), but the Crimson lost consecutive games only once all year and finished among the top four for the first time since the spring of 2008.

What finally marked these Crimson as a different breed than past editions was the lack of a major second-half slump, which had tormented the program’s four previous rosters.

“We feel like we have a real good core of leadership, a real good senior class,” coach Ted Donato said of his seven seniors, who had seen plenty of heartache before last year’s ascension.

That’s not to say that there isn’t room for improvement, of course.

“We want to be a better team five-on-five,” Donato said. “We were excellent last year on the power play (27 percent) — we want to continue to be — we want to find a little more depth and a little bit more variety scoring-wise. We also now have the benefit of having a little more experience in the nets. Last year we started the season with a grand total of one game experience in the net, so this year we have two guys that played a lot of hockey last year, in particular Raphael Girard. In the last half of the season, or the last third, he really solidified himself and I think that was the difference for us a lot of nights.

“We return a little more firepower than we have over the last couple years. We return some guys like Danny Biega, Patrick McNally, Marshall Everson and Alexander Fallstrom that had real good offensive years for us. I think our depth, with what we have returning along with some incoming freshmen that we feel have an opportunity to make an immediate impact, we hope it’s a good mix to be a little more dangerous up and down the lineup.

“One guy who is a bit of a dark horse … is Conor Morrison. Two years ago, [he] was our leading goal scorer. Last year he had an injury that really didn’t allow him to get going until the last five or six games of the season, so he’s another guy that’s kind of off the radar screen that we hope will have a big season for us.”

Among those rookies, Nashville Predators prospect Jimmy Vesey has developed nicely.

“We’re excited to see what kind of impact he can have offensively,” Donato said. “[Tampa Bay draft pick] Brian Hart is another guy who has been a goal-scorer over the last few years and has the talent and ability to make an immediate impact. Then we’ve got a couple guys in [Kyle] Criscuolo and Greg Gozzo that had good, productive years last year in the USHL, and — along with Brayden Jaw — all five of those freshman forwards have a chance to contribute and to really make us a much more dangerous team five-on-five.”

In goal, last season’s starter — freshman Steve Michalek — gave way to sophomore Girard down the stretch, and the elder goalie blazed a searing path to victory time and again. Donato is eager to see what the competition this season will breed for his squad.

“It’s exciting. I think competition should bring the best out of both of them,” Donato said. “It’s exciting to know that there are two guys there who have played on the road, played in some of these buildings, know the grind a little bit, know some of the personnel in front of them. And to me you never really know until the games start, but I think there’s a lot of reason for optimism as to the quality and the level of goaltending that we should get.”

About the Crimson

2011-12 overall record: 13-10-11

2011-12 ECAC record: 8-5-9 (third)

2012-13 predicted finish (coaches’ poll): Third

Key losses: F Alex Killorn, F Eric Kroshus

Players to watch: D Danny Biega, F Marshall Everson, F Alex Fallstrom, F Colin Blackwell, D Patrick McNally

Impact Rookies: F Brian Hart, F Jimmy Vesey

Why the Crimson will finish higher than the coaches’ poll: A healthy roster and a healthy competition between goalies will make the difference between last year’s 11 ties and the wins they could be this year instead.

Why the Crimson will finish lower than the coaches’ poll: The goaltending will take a step back this year and injuries will riddle Harvard’s roster, preventing true team cohesion or consistency.