Men’s hockey sweeps end of regular season

by Gayne Kalustian | 3/1/15 6:01pm

The goal, Carl Hesler ’18 joked before the game, would be his. A long pass to Jack Barre ’16 in the neutral zone from Andy Simpson ’15 gave Barre the opportunity to carry the puck in and find Corey Kalk ’18 in the center. Kalk slipped it under a sliding defenseman to Hesler on the far post, who nicked it across the crease. In his first home showing against Princeton University, the freshman centerman netted his third goal of the season, beckoning the single loudest, most cacophonous sound to be heard in Thompson Arena all year, accompanied by the tennis balls that came down like acid rain on the visiting Tigers.

The game is steeped in tradition. It is loaded with pride. It ended in a 3-1 victory for Dartmouth, and its all-too enticing teaser of a freshman scoring a goal he predicted in jest beforehand is an appealing story — but the weekend would bring even more highlights.

On Saturday night, Dartmouth eclipsed its own victory against Princeton when it hosted first-ranked in the ECAC and No. 10 in the nation Quinnipiac University for the Big Green’s senior night. Quinnipiac was fresh off a 5-2 victory over No. 16 Harvard University and what would become the tail end of a 13-game undefeated streak in the conference. The puck dropped, Quinnipiac came out strong for the first minute and in came Brandon McNally ’15.

“It was one of the top teams in the country and the top team in our conference, and I thought we just had a great effort all night long,” head coach Bob Gaudet said. “Obviously Brandon McNally had a big night as a senior, scoring two goals.”

The McNally, Grant Opperman ’17 and alternate captain Eric Neiley ’15 line has been receiving a lot of attention lately. While Opperman and Neiley collect most of the points, the quiet McNally has stayed somewhat out of the limelight. He’s the type of player who draws out long showers to avoid post-game interviews, if possible. You can say to him, “Hey, great weekend!” when he scores three goals and picks up an assist, and he’ll pause for a few seconds while staring at you before simply responding, “I guess.”

McNally himself is somewhat of a contentious player, drawing attention for his particular brand of physical play. There is no doubt that he checks — hard. He has just one fewer penalty minute than Neiley, but with six fewer penalties and eight fewer games played. Critics of McNally question his ability to keep his temper under control.

It is true that Brandon McNally is a physical player. As a wing, he recognizes that part of his job is to “do the dirty work in the corners,” and he certainly does just that — and then some. For some people, it’s a problem when he throws hard checks that might have little effect on the game, and that may have contributed to the series of scratches he went through in the early season. In a sport where contact is not an assumption but a guarantee, though, having players who can be a threat on the ice can be indispensable — but it can be difficult to quantify that in any sort of statistic.

Physically, he’s a very strong player who is determined to win, which when properly channeled comes into play in more than just the check, Gaudet said.

“He’s tough to take the puck off. I think when people look at Brandon they think about his physical play in terms of checking, but he’s really strong with the puck,” Gaudet said. “He played with a lot of discipline in terms of the physical play — keeping his hands down, his stick down.”

Listed at 6’2” on the team’s roster, McNally has a “don’t take anything from anyone” attitude. Besides his size, McNally also brings with him hockey sense, puck handling and “great vision” — not something often seen among the hard-hitters of hockey. His goal against Yale University on Feb. 7, wherein he split two defenders before backhanding the puck in the net, was listed as the NCAA No. 5 play of the week the week.

Against Princeton on Friday, McNally both set up and finished Dartmouth’s second goal of the game, first attempting to feed Opperman who failed to gain control but kept the play alive by keeping the puck off a Princeton stick. McNally carried it over and hit Opperman in the middle. Opperman found Neiley on the right, drawing out the goalie. Neiley hit McNally, who had set up on the left and buried the puck in the exposed net. McNally, a very vocal player, has a good sense of when and where he’s supposed to be and can open up the ice for his teammates. When he’s on his game, McNally elevates his line by finding them when he needs to. It is, he said, what he perceives his job to be.

“I kind of just get the puck and get it to them,” McNally said. “I try to make plays for them because they’re both pretty good goal scorers. If I can get the puck to them, I know they can get off a good shot.”

McNally, identified as a hard worker by others and who said he’s been working on stick handling and shooting since the summer, bookended the Quinnipiac game, scoring the first and last goals of the contest. While assisted by Neiley, the first goal came somewhat individually as McNally received the puck at center ice and skated through a defender then skipping through the final defenseman with a backhanded jump before burying the puck in the net. The second goal was again solicited from line mate Neiley, who scooped the puck from Quinnipiac’s Alex Barron with his skate before getting it to McNally in the slot.

Of course, he game wasn’t won and lost by McNally. Two-time captain Tyler Sikura’s ’15 spinning, backhanded goal off a rebounded shot by Brad Schierhorn ’16 and aggressive forecheck by alternate captain Eric Robinson ’14 helped to give a cushion of comfort to the Big Green. In beating Quinnipiac, the team secured their first victory over the Bobcats in their last seven matchups and the first victory over the team since the seniors were freshmen.

Beyond what the Big Green managed to pull off near their opponents’ nets, the plays in Dartmouth’s own zone deserve attention. The men killed all the penalties it faced this weekend, though Tim Shoup ’18, a fixture in Dartmouth’s defense, went down with an injury on Saturday and did not return to the ice.

“It’s always a bad thing when a teammate gets hurt,” Simpson said. “Shoup is a big part of our team, so playing with five [defensemen], we just had to keep rolling. I think each of us has a good quality that allows us to pair up with anyone.”

Simpson himself, who goes quietly on and off the ice, has recently emerged as the “defenseman of the defensemen.” Pat Salvas, assistant director of varsity athletics communications, wrote in an email that Simpson leads the ECAC in total shots blocked with 76 and shots blocked per game, averaging 2.62.The numbers place him at fourth and second in the nationally, respectively. In order to create some special teams momentum and chemistry, Simpson was moved from the second to the first power play unit. He is the type of player who can “do it all,” Gaudet said.

“He is quiet — not under our radar but under people’s radar,” Gaudet said. “He’s one of the most consistent players I think I’ve ever had.”

A defense-first, offense second back end player, Simpson identified blocking pucks as a point of pride.

“As a player, I take pride in blocking shots, especially on the penalty kill,” he said. “You’re sacrificing your body for your team... I think as a whole our team does a good job of blocking shots. Everybody buys in.”

Against Quinnipiac, certainly everyone on the defense was buying in to the win. Situations where Quinnipiac might have made a run for the net did arise in the game, but for the most part, those opportunities were snuffed out through team effort.

There was a puck that, had Brett Patterson ’16 not plucked it from the air, would’ve sailed over the last line of defense and lead to a one-on-one. Ryan Bullock ’16 pulled the puck from between players’ skates to snuff out the odd man rush. It was Geoff Ferguson ’16 sucking a puck into his stomach to stop it from getting to Kruger. It was Rick Pinkston ’15 throwing his entire body over a player to push the puck down ice to preserve the penalty kill.

Quinnipiac, who averages 2.73 goals per conference game, never took the lead on Saturday night.

Against Princeton, the Big Green maintained the lead throughout, though they played a somewhat lethargic second period and allowed a goal. James Kruger ’16 made 45 saves on the weekend and took both starts.

Though Dartmouth swept its senior weekend, it finished tied for fourth in the ECAC with Colgate University. The Big Green takes the fifth seed in the ECAC tournament and will play in the first round next weekend on their home ice. Its vie for a shared Ivy League title within the ECAC with Yale University never came to fruition, as the Bulldogs dismantled Cornell University on Saturday, 4-0, and finished third in the ECAC. If the Big Green wins the first round, it will travel to Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, for the ECAC’s quarterfinals. The team will face Princeton again next weekend in a best-of-three series. The team, Sikura said, is taking nothing for granted.

“They’re going to be physical, and they’re going to play hard,” he said. “It’s not an easy two wins.”