Harvard reaches hockey heights with bona fide student-athletes
Three trips in the last five years to the NCAA finals. A perennial Top 10 ranking. Three players on the Olympic team. Ten graduates in the pros, and more on the way. This r'esum'e would make any college athletic program proud, but who would have thought it belongs to one at Harvard University?Skip to next paragraph
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``There's a myth that you can't be a student and an athlete at the same time. I think you can do both,'' insists coach Bill Cleary, whose hockey squad is making a run at Harvard's first NCAA title in any sport since 1903.
Harvard athletics have not exactly languished in recent years. The squash team has won over 60 straight matches. The crews consistently leave opponents in their wakes. The football team reigns as Ivy League champion.
But the hockey team takes on athletic heavyweights like Boston College, Michigan State, and the University of Minnesota - and with considerable success.
Last year the Crimson made it to the NCAA final four only to lose to eventual champion North Dakota. Harvard came even closer in 1986, losing to Michigan State by a 6-5 score in the championship game. And this year's team is top-seeded going into the Eastern College Athletic Conference playoffs Friday after completing its regular season 18-4 in the league and 18-8 overall.
Furthermore, Harvard hockey has reached these heights while offering no athletic scholarships and imposing lofty academic standards on all of its players. Such a combination seems an unlikely one indeed in today's world of big-time college sports, but the Crimson regularly manages to assemble a blue-chip lineup. Nine members of the current team have already been drafted by the National Hockey League.
Harvard has made its mark on more than collegiate ranks, too. Juniors Lane MacDonald and Allen Bourbeau recently joined alumnus Scott Fusco on the US Olympic team, and this trio accounted for 13 goals goals during the Calgary Games.
Geographical location has helped Harvard's hockey fortunes rise. The Boston area is a hotbed of high school talent and has yielded nearly half of the present team.
``As a local kid, you can have one of the world's great universities, a nationally ranked program, and a situation where you can stay in touch with your family'' explains Harvard's admissions director Bill Fitzsimmons. ``You put all that together, and it becomes an irresistible package.''
Harvard has done more than cultivate its own back yard, though, and since abandoning its policy against recruiting eight years ago, has sought hockey players nationwide. From an original list of 600 every year, the coaching staff winnows the most academically and athletically attractive prospects and pursues them with the same determination - and success - usually found at more athletically-minded colleges.
The latest harvest includes four freshmen who not only were lured by the NHL, but were all offered full athletic scholarships by Harvard's hockey rivals. ``We surprised a lot of people by getting those four,'' chuckles Cleary.