Senior Class Throws Down Gauntlet

by David Sherzer | 2/15/02 6:00am

The Dartmouth men's hockey seniors had seen enough.

Leading a squad blessed with talented players but perhaps burdened by high expectations, the Big Green veterans were fed up that a team picked by some to win the Eastern College Athletic Conference championship was inconsistent and letting some winnable games slip away.

So this week, the seniors had a meeting. They cleared the air and discussed what needs to be done to make the final weeks of their collegiate hockey careers memorable.

"We got together and talked about what we can do so that we have no regrets when it's all said and done," co-captain Jamie Herrington '02 said yesterday after practice. "There are only so many times in your life when you can get an opportunity to accomplish something really important and something that you can look back on and say, 'That was a pretty exciting thing we did.'

"We realize we have an opportunity to do something pretty special, and I think we all want to take advantage of that."

Tied with Colgate for fourth place in the ECAC standings, the Big Green (10-9-4, 7-5-4 ECAC) returns home for its next four games, beginning with a matchup against first-place and seventh-ranked Cornell tonight at 7 p.m.

Dartmouth's wish is to put its best effort forward.

The Big Green has notched some impressive wins this season, including a 5-3 triumph over Cornell on Jan. 12 in Ithaca, but has also suffered some frustrating defeats, including losses to Vermont, Colgate, St. Lawrence and Brown at times when those teams were either at or near the bottom of the standings.

"I think it really is all mental," co-captain Mike Maturo '02 said. "We know we have a good team, but for some reason, we wait until the third period in some of these games. I think we've realized in the last couple weeks that that can't be done. We can't put ourselves in a hole against these teams, no matter who we're playing."

With three weeks left in the regular season, the team's goal is to sustain its best effort from here on in, beginning with tonight's crucial Ivy League and ECAC showdown.

"Cornell is the best team in our league right now," said Maturo, who set a school record with career game No. 116 last Friday at Brown. "We have to come out and show we can play with them. It'll give us confidence after our showing at Brown last weekend. We've had a good week of practice, and we're ready."

Tonight's game could be a classic.

Cornell (17-5-1, 13-2-1 ECAC) enters Thompson Arena atop both the Ivy and ECAC standings. With a win, the Big Red would clinch both the Ivy title and home ice in Round 1 of the ECAC playoffs.

"They are billing themselves as a national-championship-caliber team," head coach Bob Gaudet '81 said. "They are a team that can do well in our league but also can do well out of our league and in the national tournament. They're tough, strong and disciplined. They're not going to take ridiculous penalties."

The Big Red is strong, but Dartmouth is a Cornell-killer, sporting a 5-0-1 record in the last six meetings between the teams. With a win, the Big Green would sit just two points behind Cornell in the Ivy standings with two games left to play. Dartmouth's last Ivy title came in 1980.

"As much as you hate to say it, it's on everyone's minds," goaltender Nick Boucher '03 said of the Ivy implications of tonight's game. "Everyone is pretty aware that there's a lot at stake. It's important for a lot of these seniors. They've been working hard for four years to have the opportunity to win a title. It's definitely something special."

If Dartmouth is to be successful, it must receive strong goaltending from Boucher, who has made a career out of beating the Big Red.

Some of Boucher's most memorable wins have come at Cornell's Lynah Rink, including the win on Jan. 12 when the junior came back strong after taking a back seat to Darren Gastrock '04 and Dan Yacey '05 for a month.

Boucher, who is second on the school's career wins list behind Gaudet, is hoping he can continue his career-long pattern of success against Cornell.

"Cornell is a funny team because I know a lot of guys over there," the netminder said. "I played [junior hockey] against them and with them, so there's a little more of a personal nature to the game for me. I always like to beat those guys, and show them that Dartmouth is the better team. I know their goalies really well, and I like to show them up if I can."

In front of Boucher, the Big Green will need a strong, smart defensive effort.

Cornell is first in the league in overall scoring, potting 3.48 goals per game.

"I think their offense is pretty single dimensional," defenseman Trevor Byrne '03 said. "They really concentrate on their defense and wait for other teams to make mistakes. We just didn't make any mistakes against them last time. They have two or three guys that their whole offense revolves around. We shut them down. If we do that again, we'll be in good shape."

Asked to explain Dartmouth's recent historical success against Cornell, Gary Hunter '02 said: "I think we never underestimate them. We know they're always a good team, so we come out even harder than usual. So if we just play physical and skate well, Dartmouth is going to win by two."

After tonight, Dartmouth's four-game homestand, the longest of the season, will continue with Colgate tomorrow night and then Princeton and Yale next weekend.

Big Green Notes: Before the game, center Dan Casella '02 will be honored in a ceremony at center ice in which he will receive a plaque in recognition of his nomination for the Hockey Humanitarian Award.

Gaudet's next win will be the 150th of his career.