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The Dartmouth
April 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Big Green men's hockey primed for start of new season

One goal. That is all that separated the 15th-ranked Dartmouth hockey team from a berth in the NCAA tournament, at least if you ask the players. A 2-1 loss to Vermont in the third and decisive contest of the ECACHL playoff's second round was also the last game for the 2004-05 Big Green (20-13-2). Although Dartmouth finished amongst the nation's top 16 teams, it was not invited to join the 16 squads participating in the national tournament, as unranked Bemidji State and Mercyhurst claimed automatic bids for their respective conference titles. But as the ice solidifies in Thompson Arena in preparation for the October 29 opener, a new season dawns on a Dartmouth hockey team with untapped--and unproven--potential.

For a program that has spent the last decade amongst the nation's most recognized teams, another "nice" season without an NCAA appearance is unacceptable--at least for those with the skates and sticks. While high standards are always preferred, the returning 18 icers already begin their season with a cavernous hole to fill. With the graduation of Lee Stempniak '05 and the decision by Hugh Jessiman '06 to forego his senior season in exchange for a maximum rookie contract from the New York Rangers, the Big Green takes the ice next weekend without two of the greatest hockey players in school history.

While Jessiman will start the 2005-2006 season on the Rangers' AHL-affiliate Hartford Wolfpack, Stempniak became the first Dartmouth hockey alumnus to make an NHL roster since 1999, landing the final spot on the St. Louis Blues bench.

But for Big Green hockey it is out with the old, in with the new. Dartmouth's goals remain unchanged from last season, as an ECACHL championship and an NCAA invitation linger in the players' focused minds. Mike Ouellette '06 will be replacing Stempniak as team captain and can look for support from assistant captains Tanner Glass '07 and Garret Overlock '06. Ouellette looks to lead the offensive charge in '05-'06, coming off a standout year in which he tallied 15 goals and 26 assists, second only to Stempniak in points.

The senior also recognizes that his three previous years of experience make him a valuable asset in other ways as well.

"I'd like to think that having a letter on my jersey doesn't change anything about the way I compose myself around my teammates," said Ouellette. "I do realize, however, that as a senior, my classmates and I have an increasingly important role to fill as leaders. Since all the people we always looked up to are now gone, we naturally feel privileged to follow in their footsteps and set the standards of excellence for our team."

Overlock agreed, but added that assisting the team's newcomers with the trials of adjustment will also be a top priority for Dartmouth's seniors.

"I think an important role will be to try and help the freshmen get used to the demands of the college game on and off the ice as the season progresses," said Overlock. "There are a lot of things we have to balance during the season and anything myself or any of the other experienced players can do to help the younger guys will help us be focused on our goal of an ECAC Championship in the long run."

So far it has worked. "The older guys have been great," said Kevin Swallow '09. "They have taken us under their wing and made us part of the team. The closeness in the locker room could be a big factor in the success of our team this season."

Overlock, along with Grant Lewis '07, will head the defensive front for the Big Green. Consistency will be crucial for Dartmouth defenders, as the Big Green showed a tendency for lapses at the start of '04-'05. "We just want to continue getting better and limiting our opponents' opportunities in our own end," said Overlock. "We realize everything starts with defense and if we're successful there, the goals will come offensively."

USCHO.com tabbed Lewis for its national all-men's hockey team, honoring the Big Green junior with a third-team selection. Helping out his elders, defender Chris Johnson '09 may be one of the few freshmen to make an immediate impact on the ice. Named his district's defensive player of the year, Johnson led his East Duluth High School team to Minnesota's state tournament as a senior. Furthermore, Swallow points to Johnson as a freshman who has already shown an aptitude for leadership, on and off the ice.

Another Johnson may be the difference between ultimate success and another "good" season for the Big Green. Nick Johnson '08 became acquainted with the college level much more rapidly than anyone could have predicted. The Ivy League Rookie of the Year was third on the team in scoring, notching 35 points. He is, according to head coach Bob Gaudet, "a pure goal scorer" who "has proven to be one of the top younger players in the country."

Asked what improvements he has made individually, Johnson claims to have enhanced his skating abilities. He went on to explain that "scoring 20 goals would be nice, too." He points to the loss of Stempniak as a difficult obstacle to overcome offensively, but says that "with Ouellette as my center, things will be similar [to last year]."

Dartmouth hopes an improved Nick Johnson can be the key ingredient to establishing itself as a national contender. Johnson will surely complement the likes of Eric Przepiorka '06, J.T. Wyman '08, and Glass inside the blue line.

Sean Samuel '07 will start in goal for the Big Green. Samuel will attempt to fill the shoes of Dan Yacey '05, who graduated with the highest save percentage (.917) in school history. Mike Devine '08 and Dan Goulding '09 will fight for time in net as well.

Dartmouth icers are not the only ones who have set the bar high from the start. Dartmouth was ranked 14th in both the USA Today and USCHO.com preseason polls for 2005-06. The team also obtained the second and third spots in the two ECACHL polls.

The Big Green has been hailed especially for its depth, boasting three solid offensive lines as well as a number of capable defenders. "If we can find scoring from numerous sources this year, rather than just depending on one or two lines for production, we will be a tough team to contend with," said Ouellette.

Dartmouth cannot afford another slow start, as in '04-'05 when the Big Green began the season 5-6-2. "We just can't lose--that has to be our attitude," said Nick Johnson. Ouellette mirrored his linemate's sentiments, saying, "This year we want to focus on playing our best every single game and not letting the ones 'we should have won' slip away. It's the consistency of playing like a champion every time we step on the ice that we're striving towards."

Fans can catch their first glimpse of the Big Green this Saturday when Dartmouth takes the ice in an exhibition match with McGill at Thompson. The regular season kicks off the following Saturday, October 29, when Dartmouth will travel to Cambridge, Mass. to face off against ECACHL rival Harvard. The game is set to start at 7 p.m.