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College hockey notebook

Harvard men's hockey team itching to start season

If you look at the ECAC standings, one thing stands out. Harvard is the only school in the conference that hasn’t played a single game.

In fact, it is the only team in Division 1 that hasn’t started its season.

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That changes tonight when the Crimson open their 2011-12 campaign at Bright Hockey Center against Princeton (0-2-1, 0-1-0).

Coach Ted Donato said his team is more than ready to get going.

“Our guys are definitely champing at the bit,’’ said Donato, who is in his eighth season behind the bench.

When Harvard hosts Quinnipiac tomorrow, it will be the Crimson’s second game and the visitors’ 11th.

In a perfect world, said Donato, his team would have started the season last weekend, but Harvard has to be ultra-careful in terms of how the schedule plays out, particularly in the early going.

“I have seven nonleague games to work with,’’ he said. “Of that seven, you have to subtract two for the Beanpot and two for a trip to go out West around the holidays. That leaves me with three games. This year, we have BU, UMass, and UNH. Those games can be enormous as far as whether you make the NCAA Tournament or not.

“For example, if we play Boston College, that might be our only connection to teams [in other leagues] because BC beat Michigan State. And BU beat Denver. Some years, that may be my only connection to the WCHA, so if we beat BU, now I win a lot of those matchups with Denver and everybody that Denver has beaten throughout the year.

“One year, we weren’t even in the top 10 the entire year and we finished fifth in the NCAA rankings and were like a milli-point out of finishing fourth as one of the No. 1 seeds because we split with North Dakota on the road and beat BC and [tied] BU that year. Meanwhile, we didn’t even win our league.

“We ended up winning the [ECAC] tournament and we ended up a very high seed because of those nonleague games. Then I’m sitting there saying, this year, if we play UMass or UNH and we lose to them because they have eight games [played] and we’re playing our first game, we could, in effect, be hurt incredibly. BU, if we play them in the first game, that could mean more than winning the league.

“So, that’s the challenge for me. I could say, ‘We just need to play a game last weekend.’ That’s what Cornell did, but then they lost to Mercyhurst. I could say, ‘We could play Holy Cross.’ But BU lost to Holy Cross.’’

Donato wouldn’t mind some tweaking to the system for more competitive balance.

“I wish the league would look into making a couple of [Ivy] League weekends so we could all at least catch up in games. So, even if we only played Ivy for the first four games, it would get us up and running.’’

Because they start from behind, it makes for a more grueling schedule.

“We make up those games, but because our schedule is so compact, if you have injuries at the wrong times, you kind of open yourselves up to being very vulnerable,’’ said Donato. “I’d like to say everybody is in the same boat, but it’s a little bit different the way it is set up.’’

When the puck drops tonight, however, Donato’s squad will be geared up to go.

“We’re young, so I think that will probably work against us a little bit,’’ he said. “It’s not a perfect scenario, but we are at home so hopefully that will help us out a bit.

“I think they’re excited to pick up where we left off last year, so there’s a very positive vibe.’’

Black-and-blue line

Speaking of Harvard, it was a rough week for Crimson defensemen.

Freshman Mark Luzar was injured Tuesday and is likely out for the year and junior Brendan Rempel was injured in a scrimmage against Brown and likely is out for several weeks. Both required surgery. Rempel was projected to be a top-four defenseman.

As unfortunate as this is, said Donato, the team is pretty deep on the blue line.

“Numbers-wise, we have more defensemen this year than we’ve probably ever had since I’ve been there,’’ said Donato. “We’re in OK shape still.’’

Looking good

Anyone with college hockey knowledge knew that Merrimack was poised to have another fine season despite the loss of Stephane Da Costa to the pros (Ottawa). During their 6-0-0 run, the seventh-ranked Warriors have outscored opponents, 22-7. Last weekend, they swept a two-game set from the Catamounts in Vermont, and this week, they face Northeastern at home tonight and at Matthews Arena tomorrow. Merrimack goes in against the Huskies with the nation’s top-ranked defense (1.17 goals allowed per game). Senior goaltender Joe Cannata is fifth in goals-against average (1.40) and ninth in save percentage (.938). The special teams have been just that, with a 25.7 percent success rate on power plays (9 for 35) and 88.9 percent success in penalty killing (32 for 36).

Not much net loss

No one doubts that No. 1-ranked BC is a perennial contender, in Hockey East and nationally. The biggest question mark facing the team this season was goaltender Parker Milner’s ability to fill the substantial shoes of John Muse. Heading into weekend games against Maine and at UMass, the junior is second in the country in minutes (482:56) and is 7-1 with a 2.24 GAA and .920 save percentage. “He’s stepped in and he’s seen an awful lot of shots - too many shots from our vantage point - but he’s played very, very well and I think he’s improving each game,’’ said coach Jerry York. “He’s got areas he wants to improve on and get better, just like our club, but right now, we really feel excited about his performance in goal.’’

Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at marrapese@globe.com.
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