The Dartmouth men's hockey team heads into this weekend's ECAC contents with RPI and Union coming off an impressive 7-1 win over Army last weekend, but the squad knows it has its work cut out for it if it is to improve from the dismal 1996-97 season -- in which the Big Green won just three games in January and February.
But this year expectations are high, and with new Head Coach Bob Gaudet behind the bench, ECAC watchers are picking the Big Green to make the playoffs for just the third time since 1980.
Eric Almon '00 comes off a solid game between the pipes against Army, as he stopped 35 of the 36 shots he faced. Almon and Jason Wong '00 figure to both see significant playing time, but with Almon's strong showing at West Point, he figures to be the starter for now.
Up front, Gaudet is looking for a lot of points from Jon Sturgis '98, Dave Whitworth '99 and Ryan Chaytors '99. Sturgis chipped in last weekend with two goals.
As for this weekend's contests, the Big Green head to RPI and Union looking to pick up some early conference points.
Tonight, Dartmouth has its work cut out for it, as RPI has been picked by many to win the ECAC outright. The Engineers boast two capable sophomore goalies -- Joel Laing and Scott Prekaski -- as well as arguably one of the top scoring lines in the nation -- Eric Healy, Matt Garver and Alain St. Hilaire, who together accounted for 43 percent of RPI's scoring last year.
Tomorrow night, the Big Green head to Union, which looks to be an easier game than the RPI game, but with Trevor Koenig in net, one can never tell what kind of night it will be. If Koenig gets hot, the Big Green could be hard-pressed to get on the scoreboard.
Union is not a terribly deep team, having lost 13 players from last year's squad, but there are some bright spots. Brent Ozarowski and Ryan Campbell will be asked to do most of the scoring for the Flying Dutchmen.
For their part, the Big Green are cautiously optimistic heading into the weekend series.
Sturgis offered that the team will have to play better defensively than they did against Army, but was pleased with where the team is at currently.
"I think that our team has come together well and that we'll only get better," he said.
Almon credited the Army victory on the strong play of the defense and said that must continue if the Big Green is to knock off the Engineers.
" We need to play the same type of game, and remain confident that we can play with anyone," Almon said.