ECAC Points at Stake as No. 14/13 Men's Hockey Hosts No. 8/7 Union, Rensselaer

Photo courtesy Justine Agaloos
Photo courtesy Justine Agaloos

Harvard will play for valuable ECAC Hockey points this weekend against Union and RPI (Photo Courtesy: Justine Agaloos).

Complete Game Notes (pdf)

Boston Herald: A Family Plan for Biegas

Boston Bruins: Prospect Spotlight with Alex Fallstrom

The Matchup
The No. 14/13 Harvard men's hockey team continues its season-opening home stretch with conference opponents No. 8/7 Union and Rensselaer this weekend. Union represents the first ranked team Harvard will face this season.

Last Season vs. Union

The Crimson had a tough time with the Dutchmen last season, posting an 0-2-1 record in three matchups with Union in 2011-12. In the first meeting of the year in Schenectady, the Crimson rallied from a two-goal deficit in the third period to force a 3-3 tie against the then-No. 14 Dutchmen. A power-play goal from Alex Fallstrom to start the second period knotted the score at 1-1, but power-play tallies by Mat Bodie and Daniel Carr gave the hosts a 3-1 lead after two. Alex Killorn '12 notched the fourth-straight power-play goal 1:04 into the third and Danny Biega's marker at 7:03 forced the 3-3 tie.

Just a week later, the Crimson hosted Union at a special venue, as the teams faced off at Fenway Park. Another Bodie power-play marker in the second period and a Kelly Zajac goal in the third  powered Union to a 2-0 shutout victory.

The last meeting of the season came at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J., in the ECAC Tournament championship game. After two scoreless periods, Killorn put the Crimson ahead at the 4:52 mark of the third period. Union responded quickly however, as Jeremy Welsh and Daniel Carr scored goals in the next five minutes and the Dutchmen added an empty-net goal to seal the 3-1 victory and automatic NCAA Tournament berth. Harvard goalie Raphael Girard made 31 saves in a strong effort in net.

Last Season vs. Rensselaer
With ties being a central theme of the 2011-12 Harvard men's hockey season, the Harvard-RPI series exemplified that. The teams met just seven days into the New Year in Troy for their first matchup and goals by Eric Kroshus '12 and Colin Blackwell canceled out tallies by Zach Schroeder and C.J. Lee that came just 26 seconds apart in the first, to secure a 2-2 comeback tie.  

A month later in Cambridge, Lee got the Engineers on the board in the first but Alex Fallstrom scored less than two minutes later to close the first period in a 1-1 draw. Luke Greiner gave the Crimson a 2-1 lead more than halfway through the final frame, but Brock Higgins' tally at 18:57 pushed the game to overtime and the eventual 2-2 draw.   

Two in a Row
The freshman class continued to produce as rookie forward Kyle Criscuolo picked up ECAC Hockey Rookie of the Week honors, the league announced Tuesday. It is the second such award to go to a Harvard rookie in as many weeks, with classmate Jimmy Vesey taking it home Oct. 30.

Criscuolo was the sparkplug on Harvard's most productive line in its ECAC and Ivy opening weekend, as the Crimson captured a 3-2 win over Brown and fell to Yale, 5-1. Against the Bears, Criscuolo netted his first collegiate goal 13:43 into the second period, converting on an assist from fellow first-year Vesey to give Harvard a 2-1 lead. Less than three minutes later, Criscuolo earned a secondary assist on Brendan Rempel's game-winning goal, good for the first helper of his collegiate career.

His second goal of the season came a night later, scoring at 10:27 of the first period off a feed from classmate Brian Hart. Criscuolo finished the weekend with a +3 rating.   

Finally, a First
Brendan Rempel's game-winning tally against Brown Nov. 2 represented the first goal of his collegiate career. He is the final member of the class of 2013 to register a goal and the first defenseman to tally a goal this season for the Crimson.

Production Line
After Harvard's top line had a strong showing against Bentley in the season opener, with each player tallying a goal and finishing a collective +8, the third line proved to be the catalyst in Week 2. The trio of Kyle Criscuolo, Brian Hart and Tommy O'Regan had a hand in three of Harvard's four goals and finished a combined +6.  

Red Hot Rookies
Through three games, freshmen Jimmy Vesey and Kyle Criscuolo sit atop the team scoring chart. Vesey leads all players with four points on a pair of goals and assists while Criscuolo is close behind with two scores and a helper. Criscuolo is also tied for the team lead in plus/minus with Luke Greiner at +3.

Scouting the Dutchmen
As was the case for most of the season in 2011-12, Union is one of the strongest teams in ECAC Hockey, entering the Harvard matchup with a 5-1-1 overall record, a 2-0-0 ECAC mark and a national ranking of No. 8 in the poll and No. 7 in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll. After dropping its season opener to Merrimack, 4-1, at home, Union's offense has come alive, scoring at least four goals in five of the six games since. A five-game road swing posed no problem for the Dutchmen, as they posted a 4-0-1 record and picked up their first of two wins over travel partner Rensselaer

Senior forwards Kyle Bodie and Wayne Simpson are leading the points race at Union, with Bodie holding the team lead with 3-8-11 points His 1.57 points-per-game average ranks eighth nationally and fifth among ECAC players. Shane Gostisbehere comes in as the top-scoring defenseman on the squad with 3-6-9 points, and his 1.29 points-per-game average ranks second nationally among defensemen. Junior goalie Troy Grosenick continues his fine play for Union, bringing a .912 save percentage and 2.72 goals-against average into the Harvard matchup.

Union is tied with Michigan for the nation's best scoring offense at 4.43 goals per game, and also boasts the nation's second-best power play ( 13/36, 36.1%)

Scouting the Engineers
Rensselaer looks to return to its winning ways this weekend, first taking on Dartmouth Friday before heading to Bright for a Saturday meeting with the Crimson. Momentum from an exhibition win over Acadia carried over to its season opener, as the Engineers skated past Ferris State, 3-1, at Houston Field House. Two straight ties kept RPI unbeaten through its first three, but a 4-3 loss to Minnesota State Mankato preceeded a 7-3 defeat to neighbor Union to push the Engineers to 1-2-2 entering the weekend.

A pair of sophomore forwards have stepped up to do the scoring for RPI in the early going, with Jacob Laliberte (4-6-10) and Matt Neal (3-6-9), sitting atop the team scoring chart. Senior Nick Bailen lead the RPI blueliners with 2-3-5 points heading into the weekend, and brings the most experience to the roster with 120 games played in his career. The Engineers are giving both sophomore Scott Diebold and senior Bryce Merriam looks in net, with Diebold holding the better numbers with a .892 save percentage, 2.62 goals-against average and 1-1-1 record.

Second-Line Status
Harvard's current second line of Jimmy Vesey, Colin Blackwell and Conor Morrison (London, Ont.) all have ties to the World Junior Championships. Vesey and Blackwell had strong showings at the U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp in August, giving them a chance to play in the prestigious tournament. Morrison represented Germany at the 2009 IIHF Junior Championships prior to his arrival at Harvard.  

Shutting The Door
In his 14th career start and 19th career game, junior goalie Raphael Girard, recorded his first collegiate shutout, stopping 31 shots in a season-opening 5-0 win against Bentley. The last time Harvard shut out an opponent was Nov. 6, 2010 at home against Rensselaer. Kyle Richter '11 blocked 19 shots in the 1-0 win over the Engineers.

Girard's effort also marked the first time since 2000 that the Crimson recorded a shutout victory in its first game of the season.   

Consider It Killed
The Harvard penalty kill unit, which ended the 2011-12 season on a hot streak, was equal to the challenge posed by Bentley, killing all five power-play chances the Falcons earned in the game. Harvard also went 3-for-3 against the Bears and killed three of four penalties against Yale. With 11 of 12 (91.7%) penalties killed this season, Harvard ranks sixth in the nation and third in the ECAC in penalty killing.

In the quarterfinal series against Yale last season, Harvard killed 17 of 18 penalties, including an 11-for-11 showing in Game 2 of the series. Harvard went on to hold Cornell (0-for-2) and Union (0-for-3) without a power-play goal in the ECAC Tournament semifinal and final rounds. Harvard has killed 33 of its last 35 penalties, and held five of its last seven opponents without a power-play goal, dating back to last season.  

The Bright Stuff
Harvard is 69-39-7 (.633) at Bright Hockey Center under Ted Donato and 291-132‑32 (.676) all-time at Bright, which opened in 1979‑80. Last season, Harvard posted an 8-5-3 home record.

Poll Presence
With both major national polls placing Harvard at No. 13 last week, it marked the highest the Crimson had been ranked since March 20, 2006, when Harvard appeared at No. 7 in the poll.

This week's national hockey polls feature a quartet of ECAC Hockey teams. Cornell appears as the highest ranked ECAC squad, coming in at No. 4, with Union right on its tail at No. 8/7. Harvard is ranked 14th in the poll and remained 13th in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll, and St. Lawrence is the final ranked team, moving up to No. 13/14.