BOSTON — It’s baptism by fire for Harvard men’s hockey this season.
Though maybe not as young as, say, Boston University, the Crimson are clawing their way through the current campaign with their fair share of youngsters. So as one might expect, there are some learning curves to navigate. Case in point: Friday’s meeting with Yale in Allston.
Following its Beanpot showing, Harvard needed a bounce-back performance against a Yale team the Crimson probably should have had an easier time with than they did. But there they were, just beyond the midway point of the second period down 4-1 at Bright-Landry Hockey Center. Their jump was lackluster from the start, and Yale was having little issue imposing its will on the hosts.
And while at Nick Abruzzese goal at 10:55 in the second to cut the deficit in half gave Harvard some life, it still was getting pinned back in its defensive zone early on in the third period.
Abruzzese struck again to make it 4-3 with a little over five minutes to play in the game, then Jack Rathbone’s equalizer with 1:21 to go forced overtime, where neither side would score.
Yale probably deserved better than a 4-4 result, but for Harvard it was a gift. And a gift that came with a message from coach Ted Donato.
“I give our guys credit for their resilience,” Donato said after the game. “I just want to send a clear message to the guys that we’re all on the same page as to how hard the hockey games become this time of year, and how hard it is to get two points. And playing catchup hockey is losing hockey, quite honestly.”
Of Harvard’s 19 skaters Friday night, six are first-years. Another seven are sophomores.
And while they’ve undoubtedly faced in-game adversity over the course of their hockey-playing careers, adversity in the midst of college sports’ longest-standing rivalry is a bit different.
As such, these learning experiences are pivotal as the stretch run really ramps up.
“I don’t know if I would call it beneficial (for players to learn to be in the tough spots), but maybe essential,” Donato said. “Because at this time of year you have to fight through some adversity and stay with it. … I think in a lot of ways some of our most impactful players are still lacking experience in some of these types of situations. But I don’t think the other teams really care too much about that, so we better learn quickly or we won’t get the results that we want.”
Abruzzese, a 2019 fourth-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs, is one of those first-year players. It sounds like Donato’s message is getting through.
“I think we have a pretty resilient group,” the 20-year-old winger said. “There’s a couple times this year we’ve been down and haven’t had as good of a push as we did today, so I was happy to see that. But I think just playing with desperation and intensity like we did — if we can play like that for the full 60 I think we’ll have a lot of success.”
Harvard’s remaining five games during the regular season are conference games, so these tight spots aren’t going anywhere.