Dartmouth hockey anticipates Princeton “tennis ball game”
Fresh off a 7-6 victory over Harvard University, the Dartmouth men's hockey team looks forward to its match against Princeton University.
“It’s nothing like I’ve ever experienced before.”
That is how Kevan Kilistoff ’19, captain of the men’s hockey team, described the “tennis ball game” that will take place tonight. Students in the crowd will follow a tradition that has existed for over two decades and toss tennis balls onto the ice after the team’s first goal of the game. While the initial goal will provide excitement and entertainment, team members are making sure they stay focused on their priority: defeating rival Princeton University, the defending ECAC conference champion and current top-20 team in the nation.
“They play really fast, and they have two of the top players in college hockey — [All-Americans Ryan Kuffner and Max Véronneau] — they are a good challenge for us early in the season,” head coach Bob Gaudet ’81 said.
Gaudet, who is one win shy of his 400th career win, believes his team can be successful if they play their style of hockey.
“It’s not who we play, it’s how we play,” Gaudet said. “It’s important that we play our game. We know we have to be on our game to be successful against them.”
Kilistoff says the team needs to cut down on penalties and limit the Princeton power play.
“They’ve had a good power play against us in the past, so we have to try to stay out of the box,” Gaudet said.
Dartmouth struggled with the penalty kill in its opening game of the season, as Harvard University went five for seven on the power play last Saturday.
“We learned a lot,” Kilistoff says. “We did a lot of work this week on our penalty kill, so hopefully that will pay off this week.”
Gaudet agrees that the penalty kill must improve, but he was happy with the team’s performance last weekend.
“Our resilience was great,” Gaudet said. “We were down a couple of times in that game by two goals. We continued to work hard, to stay with our game plan and found a way to score some big goals.”
Kilistoff hopes the offensive performance in the game against Harvard will carry over to this weekend.
“Scoring seven goals was huge for us,” Kilistoff said. “It adds a lot of confidence to the team.”
Drew O’Connor ’22, who finished his first collegiate game with three points, said he learned a lot from the win.
It was a big game for our team,” O’Connor said. “It was a bit of an adjustment to the speed of the game, but it was a fun game and I was glad we were able to get the win.”
O’Connor is excited for his first home game against Princeton. He first heard about the tennis ball tradition when he decided to come to Dartmouth, and he attended last year’s game with friends to see the game in person.
“It was really cool to see,” O’Connor said. “It’s definitely something I’m looking forward to. At the end of the day, it will still be a tough game. We have to focus on just playing Princeton and try to put it in the back of our mind, but it will definitely be a fun game.”
O’Connor will be one of six freshman skaters looking to continue a new sort of tradition: a freshman has scored the first goal of the tennis ball game, now known as “The Goal,” for the past five years.
Gaudet believes that his players will have the right amount of excitement tonight.
“We have a great group of guys on our team, and there’s a level of excitement for each and every game,” O’Connor said. “My hope is that they’ll have the same level of excitement the following night against Quinnipiac University because they have an outstanding team also.”
Gaudet appreciates the support from the student body that the team receives during the game each year.
“The energy in Thompson Arena is just fabulous,” Gaudet said “It’s a great atmosphere and the students are great.”
Kilistoff loves the energy in the arena, but he knows he must keep his teammates in check and focused on the task at hand.
“It’s always a fun game and a packed building,” Kilistoff said. “It’s pretty crazy. I know the players feel it. Every time the puck is almost about to go in for our first goal, there’s a lot of anticipation and buildup. My goal is to lead by example. It’s easy to get emotional in this game because there’s a lot of people and everybody’s trying to get that first goal.”
Gaudet says avoiding turnovers and staying out of the penalty box will be necessary for the Big Green to defeat the Tigers.
“We have to make really good decisions with the hockey puck and not turn it over in key areas of the ice,” Gaudet said. “It always come down to work ethic. That’s kind of our identity. We are a team that works really hard. We’ve got to try to outwork this team.”
O’Connor says the team will have to focus on slowing down Princeton’s offense.
“It should be a good test for us, but we’re looking forward to it,” O’Connor said. “I think we just have to stick to our game.”
Kilistoff knows that defeating the defending conference champion Tigers will not be easy, but he believes the Big Green are up to challenge.
“They still have the majority of their players, so they’re going to be a good team,” Kilistoff said. “We definitely want to prove ourselves. Being my last one, I’m going to make the most of it.”
The puck will drop against No. 19 Princeton at 7 p.m. tonight in Thompson Arena. Dartmouth concludes the weekend with a matchup against No. 15 Quinnipiac at 7 p.m. on Saturday in Thompson Arena.