Hockey hoping for mix of old, new
One second, one goal. That's all that separated the Dartmouth men's hockey team from a playoff birth last season. A last second, overtime goal by St. Lawrence in the last weekend of ECAC action set into play the improbable scenario that kept the Big Green out of the hotly contested ECAC post-season picture.
However, that painful memory has been forgotten as the Big Green charge into the second year of the Bob Gaudet era, looking to improve on last season's 11-13-5 record. The puck hits the ice at 4 p.m. on Sunday in Thompson Arena, as the Big Green usher in the '98-'99 season against Niagara University.
The biggest question mark revolving around Dartmouth's season is how the team will fill the offensive void left by the graduation of seven forwards. Those seven '98's accounted for 62% of the Big Green's goal scoring production last sesaon. However, blue-liner and team captain David Risk '99 sees this year's senior class stepping up to play a bigger offensive role.
"We have an experienced group of senior forwards that know what it takes to win," Risk said. "The seniors have matured and really fine- tuned their games over the past four years, and are ready to carry the load in whatever role necessary.".
Assistant captains Ryan Chaytors '99 and Curtis Wilgosh '99 are the leading returning scorers up front, with 17 and 26 points last year, respectively. In addition, the Big Green returns experienced seniors Matt Giedt and Zac Hafer, as well as a core group of sophomores that look to step up their production. Wilgosh acknowledges the importance of senior leadership at forward, but also sees younger players lighting the lamp early and often this season.
"I think we will be dependent on our seniors just like any other team," he said. "But we also have people in the junior, sophomore and freshmen classes who are ready to contribute right now. It would not surprise me in the least if these guys figured into the scoring immediately."
Looking to fill the skates of the departed seniors will be twelve highly touted freshmen, often described as the top recruiting class in the ECAC. Stand-outs include Jamie Herrington '02 , who was named the CJHL (Canadian Junior Hockey League) league most valuable player, and is a two-time CJHL all-star. Mike Maturo '02 captained Belmont Hill last season, and is a two-time All ISL/ All-New England selection. Risk emphasized the impact the freshmen as a whole have made already.
" Thus far, each and everyone has been impressive with their talent level, persistence and most importantly their character. I can't imagine 12 better additions to Dartmouth hockey. Anyone of the freshmen could step it up and have a huge season, " Risk said.
Defensively, the Big Green return a solid, experienced group with only one spot lost to graduation. This group of blue-liners packs an offensive punch, with three of the top 10 scoring defensemen in the ECAC last year in Risk (2-12-14), Scott Peach '99 (9-12-21) and Ryan Poulton '00 (1-14-15). Rounding out this group are the defensively minded duo of fifth year senior Shane Ness '98 and Ryan Burkart '99. Dory Tisdale '01, Drew Crapsner '01 and freshmen Carl Desjardins and Pascal Lalonde will also compete for ice time. As Peach eloquently put it, the defense is looking solid.
Jason Almon '00 should provide a steady presence in net. The junior goalkeeper had a 2.84 goals against average last season, with seven wins in 16 appearances. Freshmen Robert Delwo will look to compete for ice time, while veteran goalkeeper Jason Wong '00 looks to return to the lineup this winter.
The Big Green face a formidable challenge in their season opener against Niagara. The Purple Eagles have already posted victories over last year's NCAA champion, Michigan (in Ann Arbor), and this year's favorite to win the CCHA, Ohio State. Dartmouth recognizes it will have to come out physical and sharp.
"Obviously, we want to come out and win the season opener," Chaytors said. "This will be a good test. We'll have to jump right into it full bore against a very solid opponent."
"I think everyone is really anxious to get the season started," Burkhart said. "We've worked hard all preseason and we're ready to go."
Picked to finish 11th in the 12 team ECAC due primarily to their youth, the Big Green should contend in the playoff picture which includes the top 10 teams. Clarkson and Princeton have been picked as the favorites to win the ECAC regular season. While the Big Green have not dominated the win column of the ECAC for the past few seasons, they have developed a reputation as a strong, physically tough team that no one likes to play. Risk stressed that that Dartmouth looks to build on that reputation by surprising opponents with more speed, and hopefully more points in the ECAC standings.
"We look to set the tone in the opener that Thompson Arena will be a nightmare for opposing teams," Risk said.
Chaytors and Risk emphasized the important role that a packed house plays in firing up the Big Green and intimidating opponents. To encourage fan support at Thompson this season, the seats behind the opposing teams penalty box have been opened up, free shuttle service will be provided from behind Robinson Hall to Thompson, and one lucky fan will have a shot at $10,000 each home game.
The Big Green host Canadian club team Acadia in an exhibition Saturday night at Thompson Arena. The game does not count towards Dartmouth's record.
With a lot of new faces, a group of old faces and an upbeat attitude, this Dartmouth squad hopes to surprise a lot of teams in the ECAC this season.