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College hockey notebook

Crimson better make their move

By Nancy Marrapese-Burrell
Globe Staff / January 22, 2010

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For the first two months of the season, Harvard had just two victories. The first came on opening night, Oct. 30 at Dartmouth, and the second came in the Crimson’s first game back from the holiday break, 3-1 at home over Quinnipiac Dec. 29. In between, the team compiled a record of 0-8-2.

The new year brought a pair of losses in Minnesota, but coach Ted Donato was pleased at the direction in which the squad was headed. The Crimson followed those competitive performances with back-to-back victories over No. 5-ranked Yale and Dartmouth.

This is a critical weekend for Harvard. Heading into tonight’s road contest against Union (13-4-5, 7-0-3), the league’s top team, Harvard is 4-10-2 overall and 4-5-2 in ECAC play. Tomorrow afternoon, the Crimson take on Rensselaer (12-11-1, 5-5-0), with which they are tied for seventh in the standings.

“We’ve actually played pretty well as of early December, but we didn’t have much to show for it,’’ said Donato. “I thought we played pretty well against BC [a 3-2 loss Dec. 9], we could’ve beaten BU [a 6-5 overtime loss Nov. 24]. I think we were six guys down against BC, but the kids have battled.

“I think we’ve gotten better. We have some good young talent. We were beating ourselves a little bit earlier in the year, but I think we’re a better team than our record. We could easily be looking at about .500 if we could’ve just closed some games out and stayed out of the [penalty] box a few times late in the game.’’

There is still a long way to go, but so far the highlight of the season was beating Yale.

“The guys have a lot of confidence,’’ said Donato. “It was a good chance to come back and play against a top-ranked team, a team that is defending champion of our league. Our guys knew if we came out and played a solid game, we feel like we can play with anybody.

“We’ve played some good teams well, but we had to close the game out. We’ve improved in our own zone defensively and I think some of our young guys are starting to mature a little bit. I think our best hockey is ahead of us.’’

One of the top point producers on the team is freshman forward Louis Leblanc, who has 14 points (8 goals) in 14 games. He had a pair of goals in the Yale and Dartmouth contests.

“He’s looked more and more comfortable,’’ said Donato. “He’s been one of our best players from the first day he’s been on the ice. His work ethic is second to none, and since we’ve come back from Christmas, he’s had a hop in his step and the puck has started to go in the net for him.

“He’s a guy who can be a difference maker for us on any given night and he’s given us a big boost over the last few games.’’

Harvard has three games remaining before taking on BC in the Beanpot Feb. 1. Donato said he’s not dwelling on the tournament because there is business to be dealt with first - but it’s impossible not to think about it.

“The Beanpot is just so special, it’s a date you circle pretty much as soon as the last one is over,’’ said Donato. “At this point, we’ll definitely start to keep an eye on the Beanpot teams and how they’re playing. Obviously, for us, we want to be hitting on all cylinders and healthy come Beanpot time.’’

Huskies hurting
Northeastern has been battling injuries all season, but the Huskies actually caught a break this week when it was learned that defenseman Drew Muench, who hurt his knee Tuesday night against Providence, will be sidelined only a couple of weeks. Coach Greg Cronin has not had a completely healthy lineup all season. “It seems like every time we get a break [in the schedule], we’re just trying to get bodies back,’’ said Cronin, whose squad doesn’t play again until next Friday when it hosts UMass-Lowell. “It’s a good time to have a break.’’ Chris Donovan, Alex Tuckerman, and J.P. Maley were all unavailable Tuesday, and offensive dynamo Steve Quailer is out for the season.

Hot hands
When BU goes into tonight’s contest against archrival BC at Conte Forum, the Terriers will have the challenge of containing the red-hot trio of left wing Joe Whitney, center Brian Gibbons, and right wing Cam Atkinson. The line, which has been together for two games, combined for 14 points in victories over Providence and Maine last weekend. They are the team’s top three scorers through 20 games with Gibbons at 24 points, Atkinson at 22, and Whitney at 17 . . . Three of the top eight point-getters in Hockey East play are from New Hampshire, which sits at No. 1 in the standings heading into weekend road games against Providence and BU. Senior Bobby Butler is at No. 1 with 24 points, junior Paul Thompson is tied with Gibbons at 19 points, and sophomore Blake Kessel is tied for fifth with 17.

Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at marrapese@globe.com.