The end of the Harvard men’s ice hockey season in 2022 was certainly difficult, with a close loss to Minnesota State eliminating the Crimson in the first round of the NCAA tournament. However, senior forward and captain Baker Shore thinks the team’s conference title and tournament appearance can be a stepping stone to much bigger things.
“I think winning the ECAC was really, really big for our team and big for the program and proved that we need to be competing for championships every single year,” Shore said. “That was obviously a tough loss in the NCAA Tournament, but I think it just showed everyone that we’re right there and that’s the step we want to take this year, to make sure we’re back in the tournament and going as far as we can.”
The success of last season’s squad and the strength of the returning roster has led to high expectations for this season, as Harvard is ranked No. 15 in the initial national rankings, while picking up a No. 1 ranking in the ECAC media poll and a No. 2 ranking from the ECAC coaches. Several players also earned spots on preseason all-conference teams and the watchlist for the Hobey Baker Award, given to the best player in college hockey. However, head coach Ted Donato, entering his 19th season behind the bench at Bright-Landry Hockey Center, knows not to take past success for granted.
“We have to establish the level of commitment and work ethic as a group in order to have the success that we want,” Donato said. “I think each year is a new and different year… certainly we return some guys that have had some success last year, and that’s a great sign. But I think we have to establish our identity as a group and as a team.”
The Crimson enjoyed a strong season in 2021-2022 in its return to the ice following the canceled 2020-2021 season, finishing with a 21-11-3 record. Despite missing key players throughout the season, including COVID-related absences and former captain Nick Abruzzese and junior forward Sean Farrell departing briefly to play in the Winter Olympics, Harvard hit its stride towards the end of the season, securing an Ivy League title with a 7-2-1 record after February 1. In the ECAC playoffs, the Crimson defeated the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Clarkson to advance to the title game, where they defeated Quinnipiac in overtime to win the Whitelaw Cup. After earning the automatic ECAC berth in the NCAA tournament, Harvard’s season came to an end in a tight 4-3 loss to Minnesota State, the eventual national runners-up.
“I think an identity that we’re taking on as a team is championship standards,” Shore said. “So I’m really just focusing every single day on getting better, and making sure that our habits are at the par that we want, so that by the end of the year, we are where we want to be.”
After entering last season as a young team without much college hockey experience, the Crimson now enter 2022-2023 loaded with star power throughout the lineup. Sophomore forward Matthew Coronato returns after a standout rookie season, leading Harvard in scoring with 36 points (18 goals, 18 assists) in 34 games on his way to a berth on the ECAC All-Rookie Team. Junior forward Alex Laferriere also returns after notching 14 goals in his first season in Cambridge and being named the ECAC Rookie of the Year, and senior defenseman and captain Henry Thrun returns for his final campaign after being named a Second-Team All-American. Farrell also returns after leading the team in per game scoring with 1.17 points per game. Coronato, Laferriere, and Thrun were all named to the preseason All-ECAC First Team, while Coronato and Farrell earned spots on preseason watchlists for the Hobey Baker Award.
“We had 14 guys that played college hockey last year for the first time…a first-year and a sophomore class,” Donato said. “We’re excited to see the development of some of the guys that were here last year that had some success, but are poised to have a lot more success.”
Despite bringing back many key contributors from last season’s roster, there is a leadership void to fill. After the Crimson were eliminated from the NCAA tournament, Abruzzese signed an entry-level professional contract with the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs, ending his time in Cambridge after a decorated, All-American career. Former captain Casey Dornbach also departed, transferring to the University of Denver, the defending national champions, where he will play this season as a graduate transfer student. Abruzzese and Dornbach were succeeded as captains by Thrun, Shore, and senior forward John Farinacci.
“Nick and Casey were obviously both great captains,” Shore said. “I think they did a really good job at leading by example, and then also speaking up when they had to. So we’re just trying to emulate what they had.”
In addition to a strong returning lineup, Harvard also welcomes a strong recruiting class to Cambridge, including forwards Joe Miller, Philip Tresca, Marek Hedjuk, and Casey Severo, along with defensemen Ryan Healey and Mason Langenbrunner; all are veterans of the United States Hockey League, the top junior hockey league in the United States. Goaltender Aku Koskenvuo also joins the Crimson following a season playing in U20 SM-sarja, the top junior league in Finland. Despite the depth of the returning roster, Donato believes that the first-years have a chance to make immediate contributions to the team.
“I think as a group we pride ourselves on having a meritocracy in the fact that regardless of what year somebody is or how new they are to the team, we know that the best players are going to play and guys are going to earn their ice time, so we expect some of our younger guys to have a major impact,” Donato said.
In their two preseason tuneups, Harvard picked up where it left off last season, defeating Brown University 5-2 in a scrimmage on October 20th before throttling the University of Guelph 9-0 in an exhibition game on October 22nd, with the team’s new players receiving significant ice time. In the win over Guelph, Koskenvuo posted a shutout, while nine different Crimson players tallied goals, including Tresca and Miller.
After opening the season with four straight home games against ECAC competition, Harvard will hit the road for games against conference foes in RPI and Union College, in addition to a trip to the University of New Hampshire. The Crimson will face a stiff test when they head to Ann Arbor on Thanksgiving weekend for two games against the No. 5 Michigan Wolverines, who boast top NHL prospects Luke Hughes, Frank Nazar, and Adam Fantilli, before traveling to Ithaca for a rivalry game against Cornell on December 2. After an ECAC-heavy schedule through the end of January, including a home game against Cornell on January 28th, Harvard will face Boston College in the first round of the Beanpot Tournament on February 6, before wrapping up the season with a critical road trip to Clarkson at the end of February.
Despite facing top teams and fierce rivals throughout the season, Shore said the team isn’t focused on any one particular game. “There’s definitely rivalries throughout the year,” Shore said, “but with that championship standard mindset, I think we really try to focus on a day-to-day and game-by-game basis.”
The Crimson open the season at Bright-Landry Hockey Center with the season opener versus Dartmouth on October 28th at 7:00 pm, before taking on the Princeton Tigers on October 29th at 8:00 pm.
-Staff writer Aaron B. Shuchman can be reached at email@example.com