All the Pieces Are in Place For a Title Run

by David Sherzer | 11/9/01 6:00am

When Bob Gaudet '81 brought in the '02s as his first recruiting class, he had a vision.

The stated goal each year was to win the ECAC championship, but the head coach and former Big Green goalie knew that taking a program from the ECAC ashes and ushering it to the top of the pile would take time.

The '02s and successive strong recruiting classes have formed the basis of the rebirth of the Dartmouth men's hockey program, which last season won a playoff game for the first time since 1992-93 and advanced all the way to the ECAC semifinals in historic 1980 Rink in Lake Placid.

Now, the '02s are seniors and the goals are unambiguous " win the ECAC regular-season and tournament titles and punch a ticket to St. Paul for the NCAA Frozen Four in April.

"We're getting some respect on a national and conference level," Gaudet said. "That's nice, but our guys are mature enough to realize that championships are won on the ice.

"And our goal is to win the ECAC championship. I've said that every year that I've been here, and I think that if you don't have that as a goal, you're selling the guys short. We've built a team that's a veteran team " we have veterans in every position " so it's really up to us."

As always in hockey, there are many uncertainties as the 2001-02 campaign gets underway.

A few things, however, are clear.

Dartmouth is a veteran team that should not be prone to the mistakes and letdowns that come with inexperience; the Big Green has some respect around the league after the positive steps it took in 2000-01; and, unless Gaudet spent his offseason attending the Dan Fridgen school of coaching hockey, the Dartmouth men are going to play some serious defense.

The defensive style has become Dartmouth's hallmark because it fits perfectly with Gaudet's mantra as a coach: work hard and good things will come.

In hockey, working hard means playing defense for 60 minutes each night.

"There needs to be a certain skill level to succeed," Gaudet says. "We have a solid skill level. If you combine that with work ethic, which I think is the essential skill, then you can go very far in this game."

Last season, part of the Big Green's identity was that of an unsung team that caught people unaware " especially after a 1-5 start that plagued the men the rest of the year.

This time around " even after a disappointing 5-2 loss at Harvard last Sunday " Gaudet hopes his team can forge a new identity, one that commands the respect a team deserves for setting " and meeting " high goals for itself.

"We want to develop an identity," Gaudet says. "It's different every year. We are not last year's team. We can't believe that we're last year's team. This year's team has to develop an identity.

"What are we going to be? My hope is that in the stretch, we'll become a team that's very tough to play against."

Some keys for Dartmouth:

Show up each night: Last year's 1-5 start may have helped Dartmouth to play so well after New Year's. This time, the Big Green should try to imagine the pressure created by a 1-5 beginning instead of actually getting to that spot again.

'Our House': That's the sign hanging on the wall as the Big Green walks from its locker room to the ice surface at Thompson. Last season, Dartmouth was a searing 10-1 at home after the calendar flipped to 2001. That kind of play in 2001-02 " coupled with an above-.500 showing on the road " should give Dartmouth a shot at the regular-season title.

'Big Game' Bouche: By all accounts, Darren Gastrock '04 and Dan Yacey '05 are playing well in practice, which should put some much-needed pressure on incumbent netminder Nick Boucher '03. Boucher " now an upperclassman " needs to live up to expectations for the team to be successful.

The Outlook: Look for the top line of Mike Maturo '02, Kent Gillings '03 and Mike Murray '03 to be just a notch below Harvard's as the trio leads a dangerous Big Green attack; Maturo could finish the season with 40 points. Dartmouth will finish Top 3 in the league, and " most importantly " skate in the ECAC Championship Game.