The 2018-19 version of the Harvard Crimson competed for the ECAC regular-season title, the tournament title, and qualified for the NCAA tournament. The fact that the Crimson were able to hang around all season was in large part due to the play of defenseman Adam Fox, who was a top-three Finalist for the Hobey Baker Award. Harvard had a young squad last year, with a bit of a question mark in net. Senior Michael Lackey hadn’t played for a year due to injury, but Lackey answered any questions about his ability. The Crimson also got big seasons from freshmen Jack Rathbone, Jack Drury, and Casey Dornabch. But that was last year…
This year, Coach Ted Donato will be without the services of Fox. The would-be senior gave up his final year of eligibility to play for the NHL’s New York Rangers. That wasn’t so much of a shock to the coach or the program as was the late off-season departure of defenseman John Marino, who was to be a big part of the Crimson’s 2019-20 plans. That caught some by surprise. Marino’s NHL rights were traded from Edmonton to Pittsburgh in June, and shortly thereafter he decided to forego his senior year. “I don’t know if we were fully prepared for losing both of them,” said 16th-year coach Donato. “But it’s something at this point that is out of our control, so we’re focused on the opportunities it created.”
Who Donato does have at his disposal is a plethora of talent at all grades, from pre-season All-ECAC team Reilly Walsh (New Jersey Devils), fellow juniors Benjamin Foley, and Nick Azar, sophomores Rathbone and Marshall Rifai, as well as incoming freshmen Henry Thrun (Anaheim Ducks), Ryan Siedem, and Jace Foskey.
“I think it will be an exciting and interesting season,” said Donato. “Certainly some opportunities to be filled on our blue line. With losing two excellent players early, and graduating three, that’s a good chunk of anyone’s d-corp to go out the door in one year. We’re looking at it as an opportunity for guys to step up, young guys to develop.”
“The obvious two guys that are the leaders back there, Reilly Walsh and Jack Rathbone, and then we have a number of other guys, both younger and some that have been around a little bit but haven’t had as much opportunity, to round out the rest of the d-corp. We expect a guy like Henry Thrun to come in and immediately make an impact for us,” said Donato when asked about this year’s crop of defensemen.
“The reality is that the two guys that left are both starting the season on NHL rosters, I don’t need to over-rate how impactful those two guys were for us, but looking forward there are guys that are excited for their opportunity. Reilly has shown that he’s very capable and has shown a big jump from year to year. We expect that again. We expect that with Jack, who had an outstanding freshman season. We hope guys like Thrun, Siedem, and Foskey can step right in and be very helpful to our success this year.”
“We had a couple of the top rookie scorers in the league last year in Casey Dornbach and Jack Drury,” said coach. “Those guys, coupled with Jack Badini and Henry Bowlby give us a good nucleus. Add to that equation guys like Nick Abruzzese (Toronto Maple Leafs) and John Farinacci (Arizona Coyotes) and we feel like we have some offensive potential. We just need to establish the kind of team we want to be. Ultimately these guys offensive talents will allow us to have success.” Dornbach was the ECAC Rookie of the Year last year, Drury is the property of the Carolina Hurricanes and Badini was selected by the Anaheim Ducks. The Crimson also sport a number of talented players who contributed, players including Frederic Gregoire, Jack Donato, Baker Shore, Colton Kerfoot, Nathan Krusko, and RJ Murphy. The Crimson also have incoming freshman Austin Wong, a Winnipeg Jets draft pick in 2018, competing for ice time.
Again the big question for the Crimson will be in goal. Senior Cameron Gornet filled in for a stretch when Lackey was injured near the end of the season. He performed exceptionally well in that stretch. Gornet appeared in 10 games, going 5-3 with a .915 save percentage and had a 2.56 goals-against average. The highlight of his stint was a three-game win streak that included a 3-0 shutout of Yale. While incoming freshman Mitchell Gibson and Sophomore Derek Schaedig will push for playing time. “We have a little bit of inexperience in the net but once again we feel like we have talent and we’re just excited to see how guys come in and seize their opportunities,” said Donato. “There will certainly be a competition, I do think Cameron played really well for us down the stretch and has given us a reason to be excited about the kind of goaltending that we could get this year. I thought he came in a really took advantage of his opportunity and its nice to see someone that works as had as he does at practice rewarded. We’re excited to see what he can bring this year.”
As for the incoming Gibson, Donato said it comes down to his ability to make the jump from the USHL to the NCAA level. “I think he’s a very talented guy,” said Donato. “He’s a very polished guy, a guy that has an enormous amount of athleticism, agility. He’s got a lot of tools and the mental make-up to be an outstanding goalie.”
The Crimson have their usual ECAC battles against Cornell, Quinnipiac, Clarkson, and Dartmouth, et al. This year the non-conference games are non-Beanpot tilts against both Boston College (home) and Boston University (away), and an opening-round Beanpot match against defending champs Northeastern. They’ll face the winner/loser of the BC/BU game the following Monday. They also have a series against Arizona St. in Anaheim.
Donato is excited about the team’s West Coast trip. The first of its kind since the 1970’s or ’80s. “It’s unique,” said Donato. “It should be a lot of fun. We’re playing in a brand new building that Anaheim (Ducks) hosted their rookie games this year. We’re playing an excellent ASU team. I think having the opportunity to bring college hockey to California is very exciting and going to be a lot of fun. There’s no question that there’s a lot of different levels as to why this could make a lot of sense on a national level of bringing the game of college hockey to California, from a recruiting standpoint there’s a lot go high-end talent coming out of the state of California these days, and I think its a nice life experience for our guys as well.”
The Crimson open their campaign at home on Friday, November 1 against Dartmouth. Puck drop is at 7:30 pm.