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Boston College Hockey vs. Harvard: Q&A with The Crimson’s Jake Meagher

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Cross-town rivalry on tap tomorrow night

2016 Beanpot Tournament - Semifinals Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Tomorrow night brings the latest edition of the #AllstonBrightonDerby (I’m telling you, this will catch on!) as BC hockey takes the short bus trip down the road to Allston to take on the Harvard Crimson. Both teams are off to good starts, with Harvard 4-1-1 after a competitive loss at Quinnipiac on Saturday.

Jake Meagher, hockey writer for the Crimson, took some time to preview the matchup with us:

1. Obviously, the face of the Harvard attack changed with the graduation of Jimmy Vesey. Who is expected to carry the load on offense this season?

One of the very first quotes Harvard coach Ted Donato gave me this year was this: “It’s not hard for us as a coaching staff to convince our team that no one guy is going to try to replace what we had go out the door.” Harvard may not find a talent like Jimmy Vesey ever again, and it’s unrealistic to expect any one guy to fill that void alone. Instead, expect the Crimson to spread the wealth on the attacking end.

Harvard boasts two offensively gifted lines that Donato likes referring to as “1A and 1B,” and these lines have already done (and should continue to do) the bulk of the scoring for the Crimson. Now in his second season, left wing Ryan Donato—Ted’s son—has assumed Vesey’s role on the top line and proven himself to be a dangerous playmaker.

Paired alongside co-captain Alexander Kerfoot, who centered the Vesey and Kyle Criscuolo line a year ago, I’d expect Ryan to finish as Harvard’s leading scorer. Meanwhile on Line 1B, Sean Malone and Tyler Moy, respective Sabres and Predators draft selections, look poised for big seasons as well, already having generated 16 points through six games. The Crimson’s going to need all it can get from the top of the depth chart, however, because below line two, there’s a very noticeable drop-off in experience and skill.

2. It's a small sample size, but Harvard has been one of the nation's top possession teams so far this season, out-attempting opponents 390-277 - even dominating shots in the loss to Quinnipiac. Do you attribute this to the competition they're playing, or is Harvard a team you expect to control the puck and create most of the chances against most teams?

The numbers don’t mean a whole lot because after all, Harvard did out-attempt a lackluster Colgate team by 64 shots in its home opener, accounting for more than half of that advantage. But with that said, I do expect Harvard to continue holding a territorial edge in 5-on-5 play against most competition. A season ago, the Crimson looked helpless against Quinnipiac when the two sides met in Hamden. But oh what a difference a year made. At full strength on Saturday, Harvard was the side in control. Nine penalties, special teams lapses, and shaky goaltending were ultimately what cost the Crimson a win, not its 5-on-5 performance. Quinnipiac is no Boston College though, at least this season. So Harvard will certainly have its work cut out Friday night.

3. Last year, there was a lot of buzz around Harvard as a possible national contender going in to the season. Do you think that moment has passed, or is Harvard still capable of contending for a national championship within the next couple of years?

I feel like “contending for a national championship” means something different to Boston College supporters versus Harvard supporters. So I’ll answer from the BC perspective, considering I grew up an Eagles fan in Massachusetts before putting on my objective journalist cap in college.

Can Harvard actually win a national championship this year or in the next couple of years? No, I don’t think so. Vesey and Criscuolo gave the Crimson a heck of a chance, but I don’t believe this team currently has, or will have, the firepower to win a title for quite a while.

Yet, Harvard Hockey doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, much like Vesey proclaimed on his way out the door. Come March, I think this team will be back in the NCAA tournament for the third consecutive year, and depending on who the Crimson draws, who knows, maybe the boys from Cambridge even win a game. From the perspective of a Harvard supporter, this probably constitutes “contending for a title.” I just don’t see a run lasting any longer.

As for the years to come, Harvard has plenty of young talent—Donato and Lewis-Zerter Gossage are sophomores playing on the top line, and drafted defensemen Adam Fox and John Marino have already logged big minutes as freshmen. The Crimson should continue being a threat to make the NCAA tournament year in and year out; but with each passing year, the path to a national title seems to grow increasingly difficult.

4. So far, things have gone well for Harvard, but have you identified any particular weaknesses or areas of concern?

Special teams have been a big concern thus far for the Crimson. A year ago, Harvard boasted the fifth-best power-play unit in the nation—one that converted at better than a 27 percent clip. Right now, the Crimson ranks 13th (22 percent), which to the naked eye doesn’t appear all that bad. But if you remove Harvard’s two games against Division I newcomer Arizona State, the Crimson is just 2-for-17 on the man advantage. Granted, Quinnipiac and Princeton—two of Harvard’s early opponents—currently boast penalty kills ranked among the top 10 in the nation, but if this team is going to contend, the power play needs to improve. And so does its kill. Subtract Harvard’s 11-for-11 performance against the Sun Devils, and opponents have gone 6-for-17 against the Crimson’s penalty killing unit. There’s plenty of work to be done.

5. Harvard has a tough stretch here with BC and then BU in back to back games. What are you hoping to see out of them over the course of the next two games?

For me personally, I’m just hoping to see good hockey; these are always two of my favorite games to cover. But if I’m Ted Donato, I’m happy with two points. Harvard’s had more than its fair share of trouble with these teams over the years—BC in particular—and after letting leads slip away against both sides a year ago, I'm sure the Crimson will be skating with a little extra motivation these next few games. Sure, there’s plenty of hockey left to be played regardless of what happens in these contests, but Harvard could really use a marquee win to get rolling here in 2016.

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Thanks to Jake for joining us to talk about the game. BC takes on Harvard tomorrow night at 7:00 PM.