When you look at the record of the 2011-12 Harvard men’s hockey team, it appears to be a misprint, but it’s not. The 13-10-11 campaign set an NCAA record for ties in a season.
In addition to the 11 overtime games in the regular season, two of the Crimson’s matchups against Yale in the ECAC tournament went to OT, the second to double overtime.
Coach Ted Donato, who is entering his ninth season, said it is a matter of putting last season into perspective.
“I think any time you set the record for ties in a season, there’s a little bit of confusion as to how you should look at that,’’ said Donato, whose team was one victory shy of making the NCAA Tournament. “But I think that ultimately a lot of ties came on the road and those points proved to be important and allowed us to finish third and get home ice and a bye in the first round [of the ECAC tournament]. That was a big steppingstone to be able to go back to the [league] championship game again.’’
Many of the Crimson’s deadlocks came after rallying to earn the point, and Donato said that was one of many pluses to bring into this season.
“Obviously, having the No. 1 power play in the country was a big positive,’’ said Donato, whose team converted 27 percent of its chances. “Having two first-team All-Americans [Alex Killorn and Danny Biega] was a big positive. So there were things we could look at as positives. We want to use how we finished as a springboard to make another step forward this year as a team.’’
On paper, Harvard appeared to be treading water early in the season, going 4-4-4 in its first 12 games.
“We played better hockey than our record indicated,’’ said Donato, whose team also was beset by early injuries. “It is difficult going into a season with a combined one game of experience in the net. So that is always the X factor. You can look and try to do things from a strategic standpoint. Sometimes the goaltender is a little bit of its own entity. But I think later on in the season, we found ways to win games. It was very enjoyable in the sense that it was a great group of kids who stuck together, and there was a real chemistry and camaraderie that made it very enjoyable.’’
Donato, whose team opens against Bentley Oct. 27, said although there are some question marks, he is excited about this squad.
“The most obvious [loss] is Alex Killorn,’’ said Donato. “He was a playmaker for us and helped our power play click. We lost some really solid senior leadership in guys who had good seasons for us. We had a good group of leadership that really kept the ship in order while we suffered through some of the ties early on in the season.’’
One of the top newcomers is Jimmy Vesey from North Reading, whose father, Jim, is a former Bruin.
Vesey had 91 points (48 goals) in 45 games with the South Shore Kings last year, and was chosen by Nashville in the third round (No. 66 overall) of the 2012 NHL draft.
“[Vesey] had a huge year,’’ said Donato. “We feel he has a chance to come in and have an immediate impact.’’
Another rookie is forward Brian Hart, the New England Prep School Player of the Year for Phillips Exeter last year and a Tampa Bay Lightning second-round pick.
Two other freshman forwards have significant upsides — Greg Gozzo and Kyle Criscuolo.
“We feel like we have a strong group, and what’s nice is we have some guys returning who are coming off good years as well, so it will be a better mix,’’ said Donato. “Coming into the last couple of seasons, we didn’t have any established, experienced scorers statistics-wise, and this year it’s a different dynamic.’’
As for players Donato believes will make bigger contributions from a year ago, he expects senior forwards Alex Fallstrom and Marshall Everson to take a step up.
“They had breakout seasons, but we expect them to be impact guys every night,’’ said the coach. “Danny Biega really has been outstanding for us. He’s helped our power play and was a first team All-American last year. Sometimes the freshmen coming into their sophomore year, historically that’s when they make the biggest jump. Guys such as [forward] Colin Blackwell and [defenseman] Patrick McNally, who had excellent years last year, I think there’s a whole other level they can reach.’’
Although the defense and forwards appear settled, the goaltending situation is not etched in stone.
“It will be interesting,’’ said Donato. “Raphael Girard played very well down the stretch last year. Steve Michalek played over 20 games, so we have two guys coming in who have a lot of experience. We brought in another guy — Peter Traber — who will compete for that spot. We’re excited and comfortable that we’re going to get some excellent goaltending night in and night out.’’
When he looks back on last season, Donato said even though he wishes there were more victories, he felt there was reason to feel good about what the Crimson accomplished.
“I was confident last year, kind of throughout,’’ he said. “It was an excellent group of guys who stayed focused. We played obviously in a lot of close games. I knew that would ultimately — as much as it was frustrating to go through it — help us later in the year and help us in the playoffs having gone into overtime an inordinate number of times.
“We were comfortable playing in those tight, one-goal games. I think that was helpful to us.’’
Harvard lost to Union in the ECAC championship game and Union made it as far as the Frozen Four.
“We wore down a little bit,’’ said Donato. “We played Yale in a very tough three-game series. There was a lot of emotion. And Union was a very good team.
“That opportunity to play in the league championship and make a good, strong march deep into the playoffs, I think it’s an experience that has whet the appetite of the team as a whole, and I think guys are excited to get back to that point and take it another step.’’