NEW HAVEN, CT--- At this point, Yale and Harvard have barely cracked the seal on their respective seasons. Three weeks ago they practiced in full for the first time; only a few days have passed since the opening games entered the books.
But when the ancient rivals meet up on Friday at Harvard's Bright-Landry Center (7 p.m., NESNplus), with their national rankings and Frozen Four ambitions, be fully prepared for this first weekend of November to feel a lot more like the final weekend of March.
"At this point we've played so few games. But against Harvard, it always means a little more," Yale forward Carson Cooper said. "You get a little more excited."
Expectations are lofty for both programs. All-Americans anchor each roster. Harvard, ranked sixth in the USA Today/USA Hockey poll, the nation's best player in Jimmy Vesey. Yale, ranked ninth, features the country's top goaltender, Alex Lyon, and perhaps the best defenseman, Rob O'Gara.
If anyone in the college hockey world doubted Yale or Harvard's potential, last weekend served notice that you might want to believe the hype.
Harvard, favored by the coaches in the ECAC Hockey preseason poll, crushed Dartmouth 7-0 in the opener, part of 12 goals in two games for the Crimson's vaunted offense.
Yale, the media's preseason favorite, made quite a statement, itself. Seems there's some scoring to go with its dominant defense. The Bulldogs scored nine goals in beating Princeton and previously unbeaten Massachusetts to capture the Capital City Classic in Trenton, New Jersey, more goals that it scored in any two consecutive games all of last season.
Six different players scored, with John Hayden, Mike Doherty and freshman Joe Snively notching two each. And the nation's top scoring defense surrendered only one goal in each game.
"I think we're building on the base of last year," Cooper said. "We have the defensive mindset, but this year we'll have that offensive edge we might've lacked last year. The UMass game (a 6-1 Yale win) may have been a hint of what's to come.
"We're going to be a little more dynamic, in production and confidence as well. Last year, we got to two or three goals and knew we might not have any more than that. This year there's a confidence that we can score. We're going to be able to put up numbers and play defense. We'll be able to use both sides as opposed to just defense."
Harvard returns the most dangerous offensive weapons from last season's ECAC tournament championship team. Vesey, a Hobey Hat Trick finalist, Kyle Criscuolo and Alexander Kerfoot make up a lethal top line; six of the top eight forwards are NHL draft picks. Goaltender Steve Michalek graduated, but sophomore Merrick Madsen, a Philadelphia Flyers draft pick, will fill the void.
Yale was one of the few able to silence Harvard's offense consistently last winter, the only team to shut out the Crimson all season, pulling the trick twice including in Game 2 of the ECAC quarterfinal series.
But Harvard had the last laugh, winning the series at Ingalls Rink by taking Game 3 in double overtime, Vesey netting the decisive goal. Yale hasn't forgotten the loss, which nearly kept it out of the NCAA tournament, or the feeling in the locker room afterward.
"Losing to them in double overtime at home was heart-wrenching," junior forward Chris Izmirlian said. "We definitely want to take it to them this weekend, especially on their turf. We know we can if we play our team game. (Harvard is) a tough offensive team to play against. This year, we're a team that can score goals as well, added to the stifling defense we had in the past. We know our systems, we know how to buy in and play good D."
Keith Allain, now in his 10th season as Yale coach, says the lineup for Friday will likely be the same one that produced so well against UMass. But he's intrigued by the potential line combinations and personnel mixes of his team.
Since last season concluded he's anticipated better offensive numbers from the returning forwards. Freshmen forwards Snively and Andrew Gaus along with power-play defenseman Charlie Curti are also expected to contribute. Much needs to be fine-tuned, but overall he was pleased with the opening weekend.
"There were stretches where we looked like a brand new team," Allain said. "But there were also stretches we looked like what we hope to be in the future."
This article was written by Chip Malafronte from New Haven Register, Conn. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.