Anyone who hasn't been following the women's ice hockey team this season should start today. With a combination of talented offense, hard-nosed defense and stellar goaltending, Dartmouth has marched into second place in the ECAC.
With just two more games in their regular season the Big Green stand just a single point behind the number one team in the nation, the Brown Bears.
After a convincing 4-0 win over Maine it looked as if Dartmouth was poised to defeat the University of New Hampshire and claim first place in the ECAC. The Big Green had rallied around the return of co-captain Carrie Sekela '01, who scored two goals in her first game back after suffering a broken leg on Dec. 11 against Minnesota.
On Sunday, Dartmouth faced off against UNH -- a team the Big Green had beaten 4-0 eariler in the season. It seemed that Dartmouth would have the upper hand again but, alas, our heroines were defeated by the Wildcats 5-1 in a game where a team masquerading as the Big Green could not put the pieces together.
From the first faceoff, it was clear that Dartmouth was not playing its best hockey. UNH had no trouble moving the puck into the Dartmouth zone early, and to make matters worse, Dartmouth couldn't clear the zone.
It only took the Wildcats 2:53 to get on the board. A smooth passing sequence out of the Wildcat zone found Carisa Zaban and Samantha Holmes in a two-on-one streak towards the net. Zaban carried the puck all the way to the Dartmouth crease before passing at the last second to Samantha Holmes on her left wing side. Holmes one-timed the puck past goaltender Amy Ferguson '03 to put UNH up 1-0.
After the first goal, Dartmouth buckled down a little. Although the Big Green still had trouble carrying the puck into the UNH end, they started to capitalize on loose pucks in the Wildcat zone.
Dartmouth would actually outshoot UNH 10-8 for the period, but Wildcat goalie Jen Huggon proved to be a wall between the pipes all afternoon.
Zaban struck again for UNH with just over five minutes left in the first period. She gained control of the puck behind the Dartmouth goal and stuffed a goal between the left goalpost and Ferguson's left pad.
Although the score was a garbage goal,the 2-0 lead allowed UNH to take a few more chances. This is when the Big Green defense finally started to buckle down and keep the Wildcat wingers shooting wildly from the point.
The second period was where Dartmouth started to fall too far off the pace. UNH had chances in the first half of the period with the Big Green taking penalties at 5:23 and 8:25. Ferguson was up to the challenge, stopping about four shots from point blank range in the second period.
It looked for a while that Dartmouth would be able mount a comeback after keeping the Wildcats scoreless in the second period. Then disater struck.
With only 1:36 left to go in the second period, Sekela threw a hard but clean hit at a UNH player that sent the Wildcat crashing into the boards. Sekela was slapped with a five-minute major penalty and a 10-minute game misconduct.
Dartmouth would escape the second period unscathed but they were not so lucky in the third. It took only 45 seconds into the final period for UNH to break through.
Zaban netted her second goal of the game on a slapshot that beat Ferguson top shelf. The third goal of the game would cause head coach of the Big Green Judy Oberting to switch goaltenders. Meaghan Cahill '01 replaced Ferugson in goal for the rest of the afternoon.
Little did Cahill know that she would be baptized by fire. Since a major penalty does not expire with a power-play goal, the Wildcats had a chance to do more damage with a one-woman advantage.
Thirty-two seconds after the Zaban goal, Michelle Thorton fired a shot from the point that found its way past Cahill and into the net to for a 4-0 lead.
Dartmouth would finally get on the board by taking advantage of a five-on-three situation with UNH's Randi Hickox and Melissa McKenzie going to the box within 30 seconds of each other. Carly Haggard '03 pushed the puck past Huggon form the doorstep 5:05 into the third period to bring the score to 4-1.
The Big Green would fight the good fight all the way through but proved unable to mount a comeback. UNH's Kelly McManus capped off the scoring with just 1:44 left in the game, shooting the puck over a sprawled out Cahill.
UNH had exacted its revenge on Dartmouth with a convincing 5-1 victory and Dartmouth left only dreaming of first place.
What does it all mean? After this weekend's action a mere four points separate the league'e top four teams. Brown has 33, Dartmouth has 32, UNH has 30 and Harvard has 29.
Since Darmouth has the week off, Brown would have to lose one it's last four for Dartmouth to have a chance at first. The only team that has a chance at that is the Wildcats, who face Brown this Friday.
If Brown drops one and Dartmouth can win its final two games against Northeastern and Providence, Dartmouth can sneak into the top spot for the playoffs.
The two weeks of rest can only be good for the team after the tough loss on Sunday, though the odds are still a little stacked against the Big Green's sweeping their final homestand of the regular season. The Northeastern Huskies have already defeated Dartmouth twice this season.
The Big Green have shown that they can win big games against big opponents. Just look at the Feb. 13 win over Harvard.
It will take a little outside help for Dartmouth to take over first but it can pick up two quality wins to charge them up for the playoffs. If the season ended today, Dartmouth would face Niagara in the first round and UNH in the second, barring any upsets.
If Dartmouth entered the playoffs as number one, they would face St. Lawerence and Harvard. Dartmouth is 2-2 against UNH and Niagara this season and 4-0 against St. Lawrence and Harvard.
Add that to the fact that in this scenario, Brown and UNH would face off against in the semifinals. Although these two teams will meet this weekend, the Wildcats won the first contest 3-2. Based on head-to-head play, Darmouth would probably stand a better chance against UNH in the finals, but that's still a over a month away.
In their final weeks of the season, what the Big Green need to do is focus on their successes. They've proven they are a talented club, but they need two wins to finish their season to keep them confident for the playoffs.
This team truly is one of most talented squads that the College has seen in any sport in a while. If you've seen them play, you know that already. If you haven't, then just remember this one word: believe.
This team has worked hard all season and could definitely bring home an ECAC championship. The Green's destiny is in their own hands.
Don't be surprised if those hands are raised in victory two weeks from now. They have been for most of the season.