If there is one concern that coaches have as the Beanpot approaches, it would be keeping their teams focused on the task at hand, to not overlook their opponents in the games leading up to the first Monday in February.
Harvard men’s hockey coach Ted Donato has had no such issues with his squad this year, thanks in part to the Crimson’s schedule the two weekends preceding their first-round Beanpot matchup with Boston College.
Colgate and Cornell, creeping up on Harvard (15-5-1, 13-3-0) for second place in the ECAC, came to town last week. The Crimson rallied from a 4-2 deficit to defeat Colgate, 5-4, Friday, then completed a season sweep of Cornell on Saturday, 6-2, to move up to eighth in the PairWise rankings and national polls.
Another challenge awaits Friday night when first-place Quinnipiac arrives at Bright-Landry Hockey Center.
“I think we’re pretty dialed in,” said Donato. “We certainly want to be an NCAA Tournament team, and when you have games on your schedule that are really important, it certainly has our attention.”
Stopping the second-ranked Bobcats (20-3-3, 12-2-0) has been no easy task. The defending ECAC champs started league play 12-0 and were ranked No. 1 before dropping decisions at Cornell and Colgate two weekends ago.
The Bobcats responded by capturing the CT Ice Championship last weekend, defeating Connecticut, 4-3, in Saturday’s title game. With the win, the Bobcats improved to No. 2 in the PairWise as well as the national polls, behind only Minnesota.
Ethan de Jong was named Most Outstanding Player after scoring a pair of goals against the Huskies. The fifth-year senior is the second-leading scorer on the team with 13 goals and 15 assists. Sophomore Collin Graf, a native of Lincoln, leads the team with 14 goals and 22 assists. His 36 points lead the conference and are good for fifth in the nation.
Freshman Sam Lipkin (5-19—24) is third in scoring despite missing a pair of games playing for Team USA in the World Juniors tournament, with Bobcats coach Rand Pecknold handling the same duties for a US squad that captured the bronze.
Goalie Yaniv Perets, a finalist for the Mike Richter Award in 2022, is putting together another fine season, starting all 26 games for the Bobcats and posting the top goals-against average in the country at 1.78 to go with a .919 save percentage.
“They’re a really disciplined team,” said Harvard senior defenseman Henry Thrun. “They’re coached very well. They play very structured. They’ve got a lot of older guys on their team, a lot of guys that have won a lot of games, so they know to play as one group.
“They’re a team that’s not going to beat themselves. So for us, it’s about eliminating our mistakes and trying to dictate the pace against them.”
The teams met at Quinnipiac Jan. 7, with the Bobcats jumping out to a 3-0 lead en route to a 4-1 win. But Harvard has been a different team at home, going 9-0-0 and averaging 5.1 goals per game while allowing 1.9. The Crimson have outscored opponents, 46-17, including 18-3 in the third period.
Harvard has some firepower of its own. Sean Farrell’s 34 points on 12 goals and 22 assists are second in the league to Graf. Matthew Coronato (14), Alex Laferriere (13), and Joe Miller (11) join Farrell to account for four of the conference’s top 10 goal scorers, despite the fact that the Crimson have played five fewer games than Quinnipiac. Thrun’s 5 goals and 18 assists put him fourth in the nation for points per game for defensemen (1.10).
The already-deep roster was bolstered by John Farinacci, who returned in January from a lower-body injury. The senior has notched a goal to go with six assists in six games. Two years ago, he and Thrun were on the US squad that captured gold at World Juniors, with Donato serving as assistant coach. Last year, he had 10 goals and 9 assists in 29 games for the Crimson and finished with a plus-12 rating.
“Farinacci is huge part of our team that we didn’t have for the first semester,” said Donato. “He’s competed in a lot of big games for us. He’s a difference-maker.”
Centering the second line, Farinacci has been flanked by Laferriere and Miller, who has put up 7-5—12 in his last nine games and is the conference’s leading goal scorer among freshmen.
Senior goalie Mitchell Gibson (.919 save percentage, 2.25 GAA) missed three games in January with a minor injury, but was back between the pipes for the win over Cornell.
“We’re excited,” said Donato. “We think we have a lot of room to grow as a team, seeing that we have some guys that have played limited games. So that’s a good sign. We also recognize that the teams that have success at the end are the ones that improve the most during the year, so that’s been our focus.”
Follow Andrew Mahoney on Twitter @GlobeMahoney.