ECAC Rematches Galore

by David Sherzer | 2/1/02 6:00am

Same teams, different venue.

The Dartmouth men's hockey team will look to have equal, or greater, success against the same opponents it faced last weekend when Rensselaer and Union invade Thompson Arena tonight and tomorrow.

The Big Green (9-8-3, 6-4-3 ECAC) earned three of four points against the Albany-based squads last weekend, tying Union, 3-3, Friday night before staging a dramatic comeback to double up RPI, 4-2, last Saturday.

Coming off the successful weekend, the team is confident and looking to defend its home ice.

"The team has been in a good mood all week due to the positive games we had last weekend," forward Gary Hunter '02. "Hopefully we can keep the momentum going and pick up some wins."

Dartmouth's chances for keeping the momentum going improved this week when one of the team's biggest "momentum shifters," center Dan Casella '02, was cleared to return from a shoulder injury he suffered in mid-December.

Casella began skating and taking shots in practice last week, but could not play last weekend because the threat of re-injury was too high.

Tonight, Casella will appear in the lineup for the first time since a 6-3 loss to New Hampshire on Dec. 13.

"It's unbelievable," Casella said. "I've been out for a month and a half. It feels like the summer, like it's a whole new season. I've been watching so many hockey games, I just can't wait to play."

Said co-captain Mike Maturo '02: "It's great to have Danny back. He's always been an emotional burst for our team. He's a momentum shifter. He's a very underrated offensive player and his defensive skills speak for themselves."

Casella, who has three goals and five points in nine games this season, will center the fourth line between Chris Hontvet '03 and Hunter.

"I think our line has the dynamics to crash and bang, and also get some offensive opportunities," Hunter said. "Obviously, Danny is an impact player and it will help us to have him back. He brings a lot to the table. He'll raise our spirits."

Casella is one of four finalists for the prestigious Hockey Humanitarian Award, but he is not as much of an angel on the ice. He is very physical and, despite being 5-8, is not afraid to mix it up with players who surpass him in the height and weight categories.

Casella typically is hard to ignore whenever he is on the ice, as he seems to get in the middle of every play and is especially effective on the penalty kill.

Coming off a long break, however, Casella may require an adjustment period before he is the Danny of old.

"I know it's going to take a period or two to get back in the swing of things," the veteran center said. "You can't get up to game speed until you're out there. It's takes a little while to get the speed and timing back. But I'm not going to hold back anything at all. It's going to be fun."

Casella's teammates think he's ready.

"He looks good," Maturo said. "It doesn't seem like he's missed anything or is tired. He's working as hard as ever. That's what he does. He works harder than anyone on the ice. We all have a lot of faith in Danny."

With Casella back in the mix, Dartmouth begins a stretch in which it plays five of six games at Thompson Arena, ostensibly a big boost for a squad that went 10-1-0 at home last season after Jan. 1.

Coming off a successful road weekend, the Big Green hopes to parlay its home-heavy February schedule into serious contention for the ECAC regular-season title. Currently, the team is in third, four points behind first-place Cornell.

"The boys have been excited in practice all week," co-captain Jamie Herrington '02 said. "I think the whole squad is pretty excited to come back to Thompson.

"We like playing in front of our fans. We're confident at home and know we can have good success here."