Hockey's turnaround complete

by Kevin Allen | 1/16/01 6:00am

With Dartmouth picking up its first four point weekend of the season with a pair of wins over Colgate and Cornell this weekend, it appears that the Big Green have finally found their stride.

Although the Big Green has shown flashes of brilliance at various points of the season, they had been generally unable to use that talent for six straight periods.

Dartmouth's recent success should come as no surprise to anyone that's been following the team, as the Big Green started playing markedly better since their 6-0 loss to the Princeton Tigers on November 18th.

Despite a modest record of 7-7-1 overall and 4-3-1 in ECAC play, the Big Green are 6-2-1 since being shutout by Princeton.

What's been the big difference between Dartmouth's first seven games and their last nine? The answer is simple -- teamwork.

Looking at Dartmouth's first seven games, which includes an exhibition game against St. Francis Xavier, the Big Green opponents were averaging 4.71 goals per game. In the beginning of the season, Nick Boucher '03 wasn't his regular self between the pipes, which definitely kept the Big Green from bursting out of the gates at the beginning of the season. With Boucher still struggling through seven games, there was little Dartmouth could do but wait for him to snap out of it.

But it wasn't just Boucher that was off to a rough start. The offense wasn't playing in top form either. Despite averaging 35 shots on goal per game in their first seven contests, the Big Green were averaging only 2.42 goals per game.

While that number is not drastically low-- Cornell is 5-2-1 in conference play with a 2.12 average -- Dartmouth's offense was sporadic at best. At many times, players would try to do too much individually instead of working as a team, so quality scoring chances were not as abundant as they might have been.

Of late, the Big Green has played like the polar opposite of the team in its first seven games. Since the 2-1 win over Maine on November 25th, teams are averaging just 2.22 goals per contest on Dartmouth. The Big Green has also lit the lamp more, scoring an average 3.22 in the past nine games.

In general, the offense has done a better job of penetrating the zone against teams and has taken better shots on opposing goalies. Over the past nine games, Dartmouth has scored on 9.97 percent of their shots, which qualifies them as a consistent offensive threat.

Moreover, the return of defenseman Dory Tisdale '01 has helped take some of the scoring burden off of the first line. Tisdale has three goals and one assist in six games since his return.

Boucher's .926 save percentage in goal for the Big Green in the past nine, with a 1.50 goals against average in the past four games is nothing to sneeze at either.

Simply put, the Big Green have made it past the growing pains portion of the season and are now ready to prove their worth. If they can keep up consistent scoring and if Boucher can continue to stop 90 percent of the shots, Dartmouth will win a lot of games.

The intangible factor here is that Dartmouth will have to continue to work hard for these wins. They are not the sort of team that will be able to walk over most of their opponents. If they want to win, they need to continue to play 60 minutes of good hockey every night and stay out of the penalty box.

So far, Dartmouth has been poor at penalty killing, with their opponents successfully converting on 23 percent of their chances overall. Since the power play will be of little help in balancing out that number -- the Big Green have a 12.9 percent efficiency rate so far -- Dartmouth is most dangerous at even strength.

At the midpoint of the season, the Big Green have their destiny in their own hands. Maintaining this level of play will probably allow them to finish fourth place or better in the ECAC. If they combine that with better special teams play, Dartmouth could bring home the ECAC championship.

The road won't be easy though, as eight of their last fourteen games are on the road. The quest continues this weekend as the Big Green hits the road to face Clarkson and St. Lawrence. Both teams are directly behind Dartmouth in the standings with seven points each. Another four-point weekend would be huge for the Big Green, since they want as much room between themselves and the ECAC cellar as possible.