Win streak for men’s hockey continues

by Gayne Kalustian | 2/8/15 6:01pm

02.09.15.sports.mens-hockey_Eliza-McDonough
02.09.15.sports.mens hockey_Eliza McDonough
by Eliza McDonough / Eliza McDonough

One goal every 10 minutes. That was the average for the men’s hockey team against Yale University, the top-ranked defense in the country. Before the puck dropped this past Saturday, the Bulldogs boasted a 1.45 goals against average per 60 minutes of play. The 6-4 win over No. 15 Yale came after a 6-3 defeat of the Brown University Bears on Friday night.

Brown, now one win out of last place in the ECAC, shocked statisticians across the country on Saturday by upsetting No. 6 Harvard University 2-1, setting in motion a four-way deadlock for third place in the ECAC between Yale, Harvard, Dartmouth and Clarkson University. Travel partners Colgate and Cornell Universities, just one point below the fourdeadlocked ECAC teams, hold down seventh in the conference. While conference leaders Quinnipiac and St. Lawrence Universities remain comfortably ahead of the dangerously intertwined teams in the middle, the six teams that live within a point of each other continue to battle for a top-four ranking and a bye out of the ECAC’s first round.

The Big Green, alternate captain Eric Neiley ’15 said, would be prepared for the postseason either way, pointing to the possible benefit of a weekend off weighed against a two-week stretch without hockey. He acknowledged the advantage that comes with having fans at home games, but pointed to the team’s consistent road record (5-2-3 away versus 6-6-1 home) as proof the team can perform well on or off the road.

While a late-season rally could put Rensselaer Polytechnic University or Union College in the conversation, the offensive hockey that Dartmouth has been playing makes a stronger case for a possible top-finish for the Big Green than a writer ever could.

The white-hot men’s team hasn’t lost a game since Jan. 17, tallying a jaw-dropping 23 goals in their running five-game win streak. Twelve players have contributed to that 23, with goals coming from every point on the ice — from the left, the right, the center, through the back door, fresh off the scratch, on the power play, shorthanded and even barreling down low from center ice on a penalty shot.

Recently, every line and every player — freshmen through seniors — have been taking threatening shots that loom over Dartmouth’s opponents. The power of the Big Green’s offense was best stated by an Ivy League Digital Network broadcaster, who joked about needing “beta blockers” for his heart every time the men got near the Bears’ net.

Having offensive depth down the stretch, two-time captain Tyler Sikura ’15 said, is going to be one of the team’s greatest assets, leaving opponents with questions of how to match lines against Dartmouth’s varied productive capabilities.

“It’s massive,” he said. “You can’t just have one line going because that makes it easy to defend and contain. We’ve got all four lines that can score and not just score but dominate play.”

Against Brown, Dartmouth came out and scored its quickest goal all season on the first shift and just 36 seconds in, netted by alternate captain Eric Robinson ’14. As the first period unrolled, Brown was able to tie the score, ringing in some of the more concerning moments of play the Big Green showed this weekend. Two quick goals, just a minute and three seconds apart, put the Bears ahead 3-1 at the end of the first period.

The Big Green, Sikura said, “sat back a little bit” after coming out and taking an early lead, but “showed great resolve” in dealing with the unexpected turn of events.

Great resolve, in this case, came as five unanswered goals for Dartmouth, the first of which was at the hands of Corey Kalk ’18 and the fourth of which came from Nick Bligh ’16 — his first of the season after being absent from the line up since Nov. 18.

Bligh struck again the next night against Yale to score the go-ahead goal in the first period, assisted by Jesse Beamish ’15 and Brett Patterson ’16. Beamish, who suited up for his 100th game for the green and white on Saturday, celebrated the centennial by scoring Dartmouth’s final goal of the game in the third period, silencing Yale’s final two-goal attempt at a comeback by getting down in front of the net and rebounding in the puck off a wrap-around by Grant Opperman ’17. Bligh picked up his first assist of the season on the play. Both Opperman and Brad Schierhorn ’16 collected four points on the weekend, each collecting one goal and three assists.

The team, Opperman said, is feeling good about the way they’re playing, but remain committed to ironing out any imperfections — big or small — that would get in the way of being the best team they can be.

“Twenty-three goals in five games,” he said. “I think that’s a key stat to show how we’re doing right now. I think our lines are clicking, and I think we’re playing good hockey. There’s obviously some things we can still work on to get better. We put up 12 goals this weekend, but we also gave up seven so there’s still things we can work on.”

Looking forward, Dartmouth is set to host No. 20 Colgate University, and Cornell University — No. 2 in defense — this weekend. Dartmouth kicked off its current no-loss streak of six games with the same teams last month, ending in a tie with Colgate on Jan. 23 and defeating Cornell the next day. While Colgate is ranked higher than Cornell, Dartmouth will be calling on its battalion of forwards to face the Big Red, who kill 90 percent of all penalties they face and average just 1.76 goals against.

The Big Green will host Cornell at 7 p.m. on Friday and Colgate at 7 p.m. on Saturday.