When it comes to wins and losses, this is likely to be a very forgettable season in the history of Harvard hockey.
With one weekend remaining in the regular season, the Crimson is in danger of finishing with its fewest wins since the 1978-79 season. Harvard is among the bottom three teams in the nation in scoring offense at 2.04 goals per game, and enters the weekend 52nd out of 58 Division I teams in winning percentage (.278).
Off the ice, however, the Crimson has turned in a performance well worth emulating.
When the Crimson scored its biggest win of the season – a 5-4 upset of No. 15 Boston University on February 14 in the Beanpot consolation game – one of the best moments came in the moments following the game, when the Crimson’s 12-year-old teammate entered the room.
Nathan Potvin was five years old when he was diagnosed with a spinal cord tumor, but after undergoing surgery and going through extensive physical therapy to re-learn how to walk, he was able to play baseball and hockey, and made the Manchester Flames peewee team as a left wing. However, the Hooksett, N.H., native learned last fall that the tumor was growing again.
Nathan began undergoing chemotherapy, and in January, he joined a new team, as the Crimson “adopted” Nathan through the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation, a charitable organization that matches children in need of support and friendship with high school and college teams. The organization’s founder, Dennis Murphy, saw his daughter Jaclyn “adopted” by the Northwestern women’s lacrosse team and head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller during a battle with a malignant brain tumor. Since then, more than 230 teams have adopted children suffering from pediatric brain tumors, including the Crimson.
“It’s been a great learning experience for me,” said Harvard coach Ted Donato, who played against Hiller’s brother, former Boston University standout and NHL star Tony Amonte, during his playing career at Harvard and in the NHL. “That connection that a kid can make with college athletes, we are teachers to a certain point, but I think we’ve learned a lesson that kids can really connect with our players, our student-athletes can connect with kids that really go through a very difficult time, and both of them are able to use it to really help their experience.”
Nathan has his own stall in the Harvard locker room, and took pregame warmups with the Crimson before a home game last month. When the Crimson headed over to Boston’s TD Garden for the game against the Terriers, Potvin rode the bus with the team, and when the game was over, he celebrated with them in the locker room.
“When he came into the room,” said junior forward Eric Kroshus, “everyone started cheering and giving him high-fives. It’s a real joy. He’s pretty inspirational, how down-to-earth he is.
And, while he might not be able to join the team on the ice, Nathan may well be an MVP of sorts for the Crimson, making their woes on the ice look like a cakewalk.
“We’ve enjoyed every second that we had Nathan with us,” Donato said. “He really hs been a tremendous role model for us in the fact that he’s so courageously fighting cancer. He’s great to have around, he’s got a great personality. His perseverance through what is an incredibly difficult time lends a lot of perspective to our group.”
“In hockey,” Kroshus said, “there’s adversity, and you face tough times, then you start feeling like whining or giving up, and you’re like, ‘I can’t really do that. Not with what he’s faced.’”
And, when Donato’s players can capture a big win –as it happens, Harvard has won three of its last four games – being able to share the win with their youngest teammate makes it that much better.
“I know our guys enjoy winning,” Donato said, “and enjoy the win with each other, but there’s no question that it’s extra special with having Nathan around.”
Even a game like the Beanpot consolation game – traditionally a lonely affair that falls well short of the announced attendance of 17,565 – is bigger with Nathan looking on.
“Guys are thinking a bit, ‘Oh, it’s the third-place game, starts at 4:30, and no one’s going to be there,’ said Kroshus. “Then, the back of your mind speaks up and it’s a great opportunity. We’re playing at TD Garden, playing BU, playing college hockey. You’re kind of thankful for what you have, and you show that.”
And, when Nathan can’t be in the locker room as a teammate, the Harvard players like having him as an opponent – on the Playstation 3 that the team pooled its meal money to buy for him.
“We had a big event,” Kroshus said. “He came down, his parents came down, his family came down, the whole team was there. We were talking to him, started talking about NHL 11, and he said, ‘I have NHL 2008,’ and we said, ‘Oh yeah, we should get you one,’ kind of kidding, kind of not. The captains got together and said ‘If we each in’…we bought him a Playstation 3 as well as NHL 11. Then, he was in Boston for treatment, so we went to his hospital room, brought it to him. Now, we play online, adding him as a friend on PS3.
“He’ll probably be beating me in a week or two.”
And as Harvard looks to beat its remaining opponents – dropping an online battle or two to Nathan Potvin in the process – their greatest hope is to see Nathan beat cancer.
“I hope that Nathan’s at the Beanpot 25 years from now,” Donato said, “coming down in the locker room and celebrating a great win for us. I hope he’s able to beat it. He’s got incredible courage, he’s got great support in his family, and he’s got great support in our locker room.”
“This relationship with him is not a one-season thing,” Kroshus said. “He’s part of his team forever. As long as he wants to come and hang out in the locker room with us, he’s welcome there as part of the team. We hope he battles through this and resumes a normal life.”