Men’s hockey gets season underway this weekend

by Gayne Kalustian | 10/28/14 3:17pm

Dropping temperatures signal that the fall sports season is winding down, but the threat of snow means it’s just the beginning for the Big Green men’s ice hockey team, which will open the regular season at Harvard University on Saturday.

All but three players from the 2013-14 roster will play for the Big Green, which gives the team a clear experience advantage in the Eastern College Athletic Conference, returning captain Tyler Sikura ’15 said.

“I think we’ve got a veteran group, so I think it’s just about bringing the young guys along, and they’ve all looked good so far,” he said. “We’ve been through a lot as a group — the highs and the lows — so I think we’ll have a fairly easy adjustment for this season.”

Even with a similar lineup, a question lingers in Thompson Arena: not what can the Dartmouth men do, but what will they do?

The Big Green skated all over the spectrum last season. An eight-game losing streak started the season, but a series of later wins brought hope to Thompson Arena.

In early March, Dartmouth upset No. 7 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute after a third period three-goal comeback brought the team a 5-4 win. This win secured the Big Green a berth in the ECAC Quarterfinals. Dartmouth was bumped from the playoffs after losing two games to the future NCAA Champions, Union College. Dartmouth is hoping, co-alternate captain Eric Neiley ’15 said, to build off last season’s exciting finish by opening with the same strength this weekend.

This season, Dartmouth must also fend off some of the biggest names in college hockey — No. 2 Union, No. 4 Colgate University and No. 18 Cornell University. Dartmouth sits just outside USCHO’s rankings in the receiving votes category, along with four other ECAC teams.

Injuries plagued the team last season. Co-alternate captain Eric Robinson ’14 and Sikura both sustained injuries last season, benching them for the better part of the year. Robinson returned to Dartmouth as a fifth-year senior after having lost virtually the entire season. As a team, the Big Green lost 120 games to injury last year — more than any other team in the ECAC.

Revitalizing a healing lineup are six freshmen — all of whom saw ice time in the team’s two preseason exhibition losses.

Dartmouth hosted the University of Alberta Golden Bears, a longtime collegiate hockey presence and defending Canadian Interuniversity Sport national champion. Alberta bested Dartmouth 6-1 as Rick Pinkston ’15 scored the team’s only goal of the game.

Learning to set Saturday’s loss aside and coming back Sunday to play again with a new pulse, head coach Bob Gaudet ’81 said, is an invaluable preseason experience for Dartmouth.

Devin Buffalo ’18 played all three periods in goal in his first college start on Sunday against Brown University. Charles Grant ’16, last season’s go-to goalie, had planned to start, but the team gave him some rest after he faced discomfort warming up, Gaudet said.

Though Dartmouth outshot Brown 26-17, the game ended in a 3-1 loss for the Big Green.

With six seconds left on a man advantage in the first period, the Bears found the back of the net for their first goal. The Bears scored again on a power play in the third period.

A Brad Schierhorn ’16 tally at the 11:31 mark put Dartmouth on the board, but Brown notched the game’s final goal in the closing seconds on an empty net, finishing 3-3 on their power plays, while Dartmouth ended 1-3.

More practice will help the team perfect penalty kills and game flow, Gaudet said, but the early games are critical for developing in-game skills that cannot be reproduced in drills.

The team’s 3-1 loss can be explained, in part, by the rotating lineup that saw ice time this weekend. Critical players like Tim O’Brien ’16, Connor Dempsey ’16, Neiley and Grant, who will likely play in the conference matchups, were not on the ice against Brown, which may change the story when the team faces the Bears on Nov. 15.

“We have some rust,” Gaudet said. “It wasn’t crisp, and that’s my responsibility as a coach, but we’ll get there.”

Harvard was picked by the league’s coaches to end the season in ninth and split the meetings with the Big Green last season.