It was a challenging first half of the season for the Harvard men’s team. The young squad won just four games in its first 13 contests (4-7-2) but there were many good signs. For example, the Crimson ended the semester with a 2-2 tie at Yale, home of the defending NCAA champions. Goaltender Raphael Girard had a career-high 52 saves, including 18 in the third period.
In the first three outings of the second half, the team beat Boston University, 7-4, Jan. 4 and earned a 2-2 tie with NCAA championship runner-up Quinnipiac on Jan. 7. In addition, the Crimson put on an offensive clinic with a 9-3 exhibition win over the Russia Red Stars on Dec. 29.
Next up is a trip to Madison Square Garden on Saturday, when Harvard will take on No. 10 Yale again on a big stage, and it will be aired on NBC Sports Network.
Ted Donato, in his 10th season behind the Harvard bench, sees a lot of reasons for optimism.
“We’re young but I think we’re coming along,’’ said Donato. “We’re really integrating a lot of guys into college hockey and into different road environments for the first time. We knew it was going to be a little bit of a challenge. We really like the skill and the compete level. When kids get on campus, there is a lot to juggle with the new surroundings and academically. We usually find after the Christmas break, everybody comes back with a little bit of hop in their step and that certainly seems to be the case so far.’’
Donato, who saw plenty of action at MSG during his NHL playing days, said he hasn’t been back to the rink since the major renovation that took three years and was unveiled last October, and he’s looking forward to returning.
“I’m excited, I think our whole team is excited,’’ he said. “To play in Madison Square Garden in front of a great crowd of alums that represent the two schools and the great rivalry, it’s one of those games I think everyone has had circled on their schedule from Day 1 and we’re happy that it’s finally here.’’
The coincidence of facing the teams in the 2013 championship game back to back has not been lost on Donato or his players.
“There are no easy nights but this is a great challenge for us,’’ said Donato. “We know [Yale] is very good and it will be a great challenge for us.’’
For Donato, who retired from the NHL prior to the 2004-05 lockout, coaching his alma mater has proven to be a dream job.
“It does seem to go by fast but I do feel I’ve had a chance to learn a lot of things,’’ he said. “At the same time, it’s certainly a place that I believe in and that I love and has always been good to me. It’s nice to be around such special people. I can’t say I’ve lost any of my desire. I’m as excited today as when I first got the job.’’
No. 16 Northeastern continues its surprising run up the Hockey East standings. The Huskies’ latest victory was a 2-1 overtime decision at No. 6 Providence. They have just one loss in the last 10 games (6-1-3). On Tuesday night, with only 34 seconds remaining in regulation, Braden Pimm tied the game at 1-1. Pimm struck again just 12 seconds into the extra session. It was the 11th and 12th goals of the season for the senior forward.
“It was a big win for the team, especially against a great time like Providence and it was really nice to get two points in their building,’’ said Pimm, the third-leading scorer on the team with 22 points. “We have very good resiliency on our team and we always feel like we have an opportunity to win.’’
Pimm said his goals were as a result of fortuitous opportunities.
“[Providence’s Jon Gillies] is such a good goaltender, if you don’t get the first one by him, you have to try to get the second and third,’’ Pimm said. “I came down the wing at the end of the game and just put it on net and it went off a [defender’s] stick luckily, so it kind of changed direction and that’s why it went in. [In overtime], I was just trying to keep our speed and Kevin Roy passed to me in the middle. Next thing I know, I look up and I’m on a breakaway and I didn’t know what to do and I just flicked it on net and luckily it went in, so it was nice.’’
Pimm said not having time to think actually worked in his favor.
“It was a bang-bang play and the next thing you know, I was right on top of the goalie,’’ he said. “Good thing I didn’t have any time to think.”
Frozen Fenway has made some adjustments given the weather forecast and also to accommodate fans who want to watch the Patriots’ playoff game against the Colts. The game between No. 9 UMass-Lowell and Northeastern will start at noon on Saturday and the puck drop between Boston University and Maine will be at 3 p.m. Both contests will be telecast on NESN . . . One of the top games of the week will be Friday night at Conte Forum, where No. 5-ranked Boston College will host Providence. BC will travel to Brown for an afternoon game Saturday, which likely will mark the 100th career outing for Eagles sniper Johnny Gaudreau. Heading into the weekend, Gaudreau has 59 goals, including 16 winners, and 130 points . . . Merrimack travels to Clarkson for a two-game set beginning Friday. Warriors goaltender Rasmus Tirronen has a goals-against average of 1.87, which is on pace to better Joe Cannata’s season school record of 2.18 set in 2011-12. Tirronen’s .930 save percentage matches the record set in 1995-96 by Jim McNiff, now the goalie coach at Providence.