Men's hockey aims high in 2000

by Michael P. Hamilton | 11/16/00 6:00am

When the Dartmouth men's hockey team takes to the Thompson Arena ice this Friday, it will be ready for battle. The Big Green will be battling the Yale Bulldogs and Princeton Tigers. They will also be battling to prove they belong in the upper echelon of the ECAC.

The Big Green (1-3, 1-1 ECAC) have thus far shown promise one period at a time, and are looking to put together a string of those periods to pull off wins against two tough teams. This weekend will be a true test of where the team is in terms of development.

Head Coach Bob Gaudet, for one, sees a lot of promise in his team, and promises improvement with each game they get under their belt.

"We're continuing to get a little better," Gaudet said. "We've been working on special teams and defensive play. That comes with game experience. We can watch films, see a breakdown, and work on it in a practice situation, but it all comes together in a game."

Offensively, the Big Green have shown some promise. Kent Gillings '03 has broken out of his shell and already has three goals and two assists, doubling his offensive output from last year. Both Gaudet and Gillings cite the change from wing to his natural center position and the confidence a year of experience brings as being the difference this year.

Other forwards who have looked sharp thus far in the season include tri-captains Mike Byrne '01, Jamie Herrington '02, and Mike Maturo '02, as well as Chris Baldwin '02, Dan Casella '02 and Frank Nardella '02.

Finishing scoring opportunities is something the team needs to improve on.

"We will keep trying to generate offense," Gaudet said. 'We had only two goals against Harvard, but we out-shot them. We had some quality chances we just didn't deposit."

Another pleasant surprise this season has been the play of the freshman. Jason Costa '04 has been taking a regular shift, and has taken on some special teams responsibilities. On defense, Brian Van Abel '04 and Mike Turner '04 have both added size and filled in the holes left through graduation. In net, Darren Gastrock '04 has played with poise and confidence, and is challenging starter Nick Boucher '03 to play well.

"They [the freshmen] look comfortable out there," Gillings said. "They have made the transition to college play seamlessly."

The Big Green will need to pull all of this together against Yale and Princeton, two teams who have impressed early on this season.

The Bulldogs, who were picked for 8th and 9th in the ECAC preseason coaches and media polls, now possess a 3-1 record (1-1 ECAC) with all of their wins coming against worthy opponents.

Yale knocked off two Hockey East powers to start off the season. They upset the then No. 3 University of New Hampshire 4-3 on the Wildcats' home ice. It was only UNH's second loss at the Whitemore Center in three years.

The Bulldogs then proceeded to knock off another ranked team on the road. This time in was the second-ranked team in the country, Boston College. Powered by two points from senior Jason Hamilton and a 38-save performance by goaltender Dan Lombard, the Eli beat the Eagles 4-3 at Conte Forum on Election Night.

Last weekend, Yale faced St. Lawrence and Clarkson at home. Against St. Lawrence, last year's ECAC champion, the Bulldogs came out on the short end of a 4-3 overtime decision. The Saints' Russ Bartlett scored with 13 seconds remaining in overtime to finish the St. Lawrence comeback and bury the Bulldogs.

The next night the Eli went in to extra time again, but this time prevailed. The Bulldogs emerged with a 5-4 win over perennial power Clarkson, beating the Golden Knights for the first time since 1997.

If the Big Green hope to defeat Yale, they will need to contain Hamilton and the rest of the Bulldogs' scoring line. Hamilton has 8 points already this season (3 g., 5 a.), as does linemate Ben Stafford.

Gaudet recognizes the challenge this presents his team, but thinks the Big Green match up well with the Bulldogs.

"They have one of the premier players in the country in Hamilton," Gaudet said. "They are a good skating team, can play physical, and are quick. I think we match up well in terms in terms of physical play. It should be an up and down game."

On Saturday night, the Big Green will face off against the only team in the country that is still undefeated. Princeton carries a 1-0-3 record into this weekend, coming off a pair of 4-4 ties against Clarkson and St. Lawrence.

The first weekend of the season saw the Tigers beat and tie Niagara, a NCAA tournament team last year. Princeton took the first game 3-1, and tied 1-1 the next night.

Under first year coach Len Quesnelle, who spent the last 12 years as a Princeton assistant, the Tigers have come together as a team and played above their ability. The offense is led by seniors Chris Corrinet (2-4-6) and Kirk Lamb (0-4-4), while Peter Zavodny leads the blueliners. Junior Dave Stathos (1-0-2, 2.84 GAA) and sophomore Nate Homeland (0-0-1, 0.92 GAA) have both seen time in net for the Tigers.

At this point of the season, the only thing a team can hope for is for the parts to start falling into place. Since the ECAC jumps right into league play, there is no grace period. It is sink or swim, and dropping games in the beginning of the season makes it difficult to get out of the hole.

Coach Gaudet's troops will need to pull everything together on Friday and Saturday to pass this early season test. In addition to that, Gaudet cites fan support as key to making this weekend a success.

"That's my goal as a coach," Gaudet said. "To put a team on the ice that excites the students and fans."

The Big Green face off with Yale tomorrow at Thompson at 7:00 p.m. Who said exam period can't start early?