February 1, 2012

ECAC Hockey Journal: Harvard making move at perfect time

By Dan Guttenplan

Harvard isn't known for its home crowds in hockey, at least not when compared to the school's draws for football and basketball. 

Senior forward Alex Killorn leads Harvard with 26 points in 21 games. (Photo courtesy of Harvard Athletics)

This season, something has caused a bit of a buzz at Bright Hockey Center. Whether it's a talented crop of freshmen, better results, or the potential for big home games down the stretch, the Harvard hockey faithful has shown an interest.

Last weekend, the Crimson fed off a sold-out home crowd both nights to the tune of a home sweep of Yale and Brown.

Harvard (6-6-8, 5-4-6 ECAC) appears to be making its move at the perfect time. The four-point weekend moved the Crimson into fourth place in the conference, behind only Union, Cornell and Colgate.

If the season ended today, the Crimson would have a first-round bye and a home quarterfinal series in the ECAC Hockey tournament for the first time since 2008.

Senior forward Alex Killorn proved to be the hero in both Harvard wins last weekend. He netted the game-winner in a 4-3 victory over Yale and a 3-1 win over Brown. He was named ECAC Hockey Player of the Week after a three-goal weekend.

"It was nice to see a lot of fans come out," Killorn said. "We gave them something to cheer about Friday (against Yale) and they came back Saturday. Obviously, the freshmen came in with a lot of hype. A few of them have already been drafted. The school has rallied around that."

The Harvard fans seemed to have a sense this would be a special season as early as November, when they threw a chicken onto the ice during a loss to Cornell. There was question as to whether they'd continue to show their support last weekend after the Crimson went through an 11-game stretch in which they went 1-3-7.

"Prior to last weekend, we had a lot of ties in games we thought we should have won," Killorn said. "We were optimistic because most of those games were away. We have a stretch at home here where we have to get points to get in the top four of the league. We're playing for a first-round bye in the ECAC tournament."

Four of the Crimson's final seven ECAC games will be played at Bright Hockey Center, making it a distinct possibility that Harvard could, in fact, host a tournament series. Of course, the Crimson will play in the Beanpot tournament for the first two Mondays in February. Perhaps this will be the year the Crimson take home the Beanpot for the first time since 1993.

"It's tough not to look forward to a tournament as big as the Beanpot," Killorn said. "It's so big around Boston. But we still have the ECAC on our mind, so we have two games before the Beanpot. They're crucial games and, if we win those, we can separate ourselves. We want to establish ourselves at the top of the league standings."

Game of the Week

Cornell at Union, Friday

The Dutchmen are 5-0-1 in their last six home games. They are also surging on the heels of a weekend in which they outscored Clarkson and St. Lawrence by a combined score of 11-2.

The Big Red relinquished their hold on the top spot in the ECAC standings after getting swept by Colgate last weekend.

ECAC Hockey power rankings

1. Union (15-6-6, 9-3-3 ECAC): The Dutchmen have made light work of their ECAC schedule this semester, earning two points in six of their last seven games. Goaltender Troy Grosenick has solidified his Hobey Baker Award candidacy; he leads the nation in goals-against average and save percentage.

2. Cornell (11-6-4, 8-3-3): Who could have seen Colgate's sweep of Cornell coming last weekend? The Big Red had not lost in 2012 entering the weekend, and they had only lost one ECAC game all season in 12 contests. Chalk it up to a bad weekend.

3. Colgate (14-9-3, 7-5-1 ECAC): Here's a team no team will want to face in the ECAC tournament. The Raiders were 0-5-1 in 2012 entering last weekend's sweep of Cornell. This is also a Raider team that scored the biggest upset of last year's ECAC tournament, knocking out top-ranked Union as the 12th seed.

4. Harvard (6-6-8, 5-4-6): Senior forward Alex Killorn, the ECAC Player of the Week, had two game-winning goals last weekend -- one against Yale and one against Brown.

"I think that role has come to me in the last week," Killorn said. "I've been in the right spot at the right time."

5. Quinnipiac (13-8-5, 5-5-4): The Bobcats only played four games in January, and none since Jan. 14. So it's tough to tell how the Bobcats will look when they return to the ice this weekend with home games against Harvard and Dartmouth. The good news for the Bobcats: They are 9-2-2 at home. The bad: They are 4-6-3 on the road.

6. Clarkson (12-11-5, 6-5-3): Senior goaltender Paul Karpowich broke the all-time Clarkson save record Saturday. The ironman, who has started all 26 games this season, has 3,396 saves through 119 career games. The old school record was held by Dan Murphy (class of ‘98).

7. Yale (9-10-2, 6-7-1): The Elis snapped a four-game losing streak with a win at Dartmouth Saturday. Yale's struggles have come in its own zone. The Elis rank third in the ECAC in goals scored (43) but seventh in goals allowed (40).

8. Dartmouth (9-9-2, 6-6-1): The Big Green have yet to win three games in a row this season. They threatened to post their first three-game winning streak Saturday when they held a 4-1 lead over Yale after one period and 4-2 after two. Instead, the Big Green allowed three goals in the third period, the last of which came with 34.8 seconds remaining.

9. Brown (8-10-3, 5-7-2): Not a great weekend for the Bears, who failed to collect a point in a weekend road set at Dartmouth and Harvard. The Bears had not suffered a weekend sweep since Jan. 28 and 29 of 2011. They had a chance to jump to third place in the ECAC with two wins. Instead, they sit in ninth.

10. RPI (7-18-1, 4-9-1): The Engineers have won three of their last four, with the one loss coming against Clarkson, a team they outshot 31-17. Imagine having to play this team in the first round of the ECAC tournament.

11. Princeton (6-10-5, 5-8-2): The Tigers host Dartmouth this weekend before playing their next four on the road. They did play well in January, going 2-1-1 with wins over Brown and Colgate, and a tie against Cornell.

12. St. Lawrence (8-15-3, 4-9-1): The Saints are 0-6-1 in their last seven games. They have scored one goal or fewer in five of their last seven. In 2012, they have been the weakest team in the ECAC by a good margin.

Dan Guttenplan can be reached at feedback@hockeyournal.com