Sports

No. 5 Harvard, red-hot Dartmouth men’s hockey teams visit Providence

Head Coach Brendan Whittet ’94 calls Crimson’s Jimmy Vesey ‘best player in country’

By
Senior Staff Writer
Friday, February 6, 2015

Back in mid-November, the men’s hockey team traveled north for two away games against Ivy rivals Harvard and Dartmouth with high expectations for a season that had just begun. What followed was calamitous: Brown started out by falling 6-2 to the Crimson before getting utterly embarrassed by the Big Green 6-0, and since then, the Bears have struggled mightily.

Now, with the season on its final lap and teams falling into place, Brown (4-16-1, 1-12-1 ECAC) will look to exact some revenge on its Ivy foes at home this weekend in an effort to possibly improve its playoff outlook.

Both competitors are “excellent,” said Head Coach Brendan Whittet ’94. “They both present a challenge. Dartmouth is experienced and very good on the offensive side, while Harvard is No. 5 in the country for a reason.”

“We need to make sure that we are focused and prepared from the start of the game,” said Mark Naclerio ’16. “We had a great week of practice and are excited for the challenge.”

The first visitor to Meehan Auditorium will be Dartmouth (9-8-4, 6-6-2), which is 3-0-1 in its last four games, including a tie to then No. 15 Colgate (14-9-3, 6-5-3). The Big Green had gone five games without a win prior to its recent hot streak, where it took advantage of middling teams like Union (13-11-2, 5-8-1), Cornell (9-9-3, 7-6-1) and Rensselaer (9-18-1, 7-7-0) to propel itself from 10th place to a mere four points out of third in the ECAC.

A senior trio of Eric Neiley, Eric Robinson and Tyler Sikura, who have all accrued 16 points or more this season — a number no Brown player has yet to reach — lead an experienced Dartmouth team. But the Big Green overall is underwhelming offensively, scoring 2.67 goals per game to rank  sixth in the ECAC. Meanwhile, its power play ranks 11th in the conference, just 0.9 percent better than Brown’s.

“Experience trumps all, especially talented experience,” Whittet said. “Things didn’t go right for them last season — kind of like us this year — but they’ve come back better for it. They have veterans that play hard and play right, and that will make you successful.”

While Dartmouth’s team stats do not particularly impress, goalie James Kruger’s play has been a spark. In the Big Green’s last four games, Kruger has given up an average of 1.75 goals and did not allow more than two in any of those games. The junior ranks 20th in the nation in save percentage and 17th for shutouts with two.

A regular question for the Bears  is who will start out as goalie, and this weekend is no different. Tyler Steel ’17 gets the nod this week, as has been the case for most Friday night games.

After the Big Green, No. 5 Harvard (12-6-2, 8-4-2) will come to Providence on the back end of a midweek, double overtime loss against No. 3 Boston University (17-4-4, 11-2-2 Hockey East) in the Beanpot Tournament and a Friday matchup against No. 15 Yale (12-6-3, 7-5-2). The Crimson comes into the weekend ranked third in the ECAC, five points out of the top spot.

Unlike Dartmouth, Harvard has been incredibly impressive in almost all categories this year, ranking first in the ECAC in goals per game and power play percentage­­ — marks that are good for fourth and seventh in the nation, respectively.

Leading the charge for the Crimson is possibly the most impressive player in the nation, junior Jimmy Vesey. The forward has registered a point in every single game this season, an incredible feat . It also has 34 points on the year, which is ninth in the country. Alongside linemates Kyle Criscuolo — 30 points — and Alexander Kerfoot — 16 points in 11 games — who is returning from injury, Harvard’s first line is arguably the most exciting in the United States.

“Their first line is outstanding; they play with a high pace and complement each other,” Whittet said. “Vesey is something special. I honestly think he’s the best player in the country as a junior, and he’s someone that will probably be playing in the NHL next year.”

Defensively, Harvard has been quite the enigma. Ranked eighth in the ECAC in goals against average, the Crimson and senior goalie Steve Michalek rank fourth in the conference in save percentage. Michalek had a performance for the ages in his last game against Boston University with 63 saves in a double overtime loss in the Beanpot semifinals.

For all of Harvard’s strengths, it has lost four out of its last five games, including one-goal losses to Union and Cornell, two teams that rank in the bottom half of the ECAC. The aforementioned Beanpot loss lasted 82:18, so the Bears might be the beneficiary of some tired legs, especially after a tough game against Yale and the quick turnaround from New Haven to Providence.

But Whittet said he thinks the turnaround will not be an influential factor. “They’re young kids with boundless energy and I know they’ll be ready and so will we,” he said.

And coming off a game against No. 16 Quinnipiac (16-8-2, 11-2-1) in which the Bears were able to keep pace with a high-powered offense, Brown has more than a chance to hang with the Crimson.

“I think we were good for most of the game against Quinnipiac,” Naclerio said. “We just need to be more consistent and make sure we play a full 60 minutes each night.”

Matthew Lorito ’15 is just four points away from the career 100 point club, and while four points in two games hasn’t happened for the senior since opening weekend last year, the Bears will hope that he can provide a much-needed spark against some top-quality opposition. The last time he had four points in a weekend, the Bears won both their games. They should hope history repeats itself come Friday.