When planning for the 2005-06 hockey season, Dartmouth's men certainly did not consider starting the year 0-3. After a stinging defeat at the hands of Harvard in the season-opener, the Big Green looked to amend its early woes with contests at Princeton (2-2, ECACHL 1-1) and Quinnipiac (8-2, ECACHL 2-0). It was not to be, however, as Dartmouth (0-3, ECACHL 0-3) was swept in a league weekend for the first time since '02-'03, shutout at Princeton 3-0 and outdone by Quinnipiac 7-5.
Saturday night's loss to Quinnipiac is especially painful for the struggling Big Green defense. After jumping out to a 2-0 advantage halfway through the opening frame, Dartmouth relinquished control by the end of a four-goal second period by the Bobcats.
This was the second time in three losses that Dartmouth gave back an early lead-- a shoddy trend for a team vying to be mentioned amongst the elite ice-hockey teams in the nation.
Tanner Glass '07 and Eric Przepiorka '06 combined to put Dartmouth up 2-0 with 9:43 left in the first. Quinnipiac answered right back tying the game four minutes into the second period on goals by freshmen Brian Leitch and Andrew Meyer. A tip-in score by Nick Johnson '08 put Dartmouth back up for the last time before a Quinnipiac onslaught knocked the Big Green, and eventually their goaltender, out of the game.
Sean Samuel '07 has allowed 13 goals in three games as the Dartmouth starter, amassing a sub-par save percentage of .835. To be fair, Samuel cannot assume total blame for the Big Green's recent failings as goaltending stands at the forefront of Dartmouth's most severe troubles. Samuel was chased from net for the second game this year after letting up five goals in two periods on Saturday. Although Dartmouth remained within striking distance, never falling down by more than two goals until the very end, coach Bob Gaudet apparently felt it necessary to give backup Mike Devine '08 an opportunity to keep the game close.
Dartmouth never recovered after losing its lead on three unanswered goals by the Bobcats, who built leads of 5-3 and then later 7-4 en route to their 7-5 triumph. With victories over Harvard on Friday and Dartmouth the following night, Quinnipiac has earned itself the title of the team to watch in the ECACHL. The Bobcats have quickly proven themselves as a more than formidable foe in their inaugural season with the ECACHL, taking down two of the league's three foremost-squads in the same weekend. Unfortunately, the rise of Quinnipiac has seemingly coincided with the fall of the Big Green-- at least for now.
"The [Quinnipiac] game was a game of special teams and our penalty-killing units were not performing to their potential," said defenseman Sean Offers '06. "We had four power play goals but it was not enough for us to win. Team defense is something that our team will continue to work on. We did not seem to be doing our jobs in the second game and letting guys just walk right in on our goalies."
The previous evening, Dartmouth had the ill-fated luck of encountering Princeton goalie B.J. Sklapsky on a career night for the junior. The Saskatchewan native posted 41 saves for a career high and recorded his first collegiate shut-out. After a goal by junior Grant Goeckner-Zoeller gave Princeton a 1-0 lead with a minute left in the first, the teams played 27 minutes of evenhanded hockey. While Dartmouth outshot Princeton 18-8 in the final frame, the Tigers' Patrick Neundorfer capitalized on a Big Green turnover to give the home team all the insurance it would need. Princeton would tack on a third goal with one second left on an empty net.
"I thought we dominated the play for the majority of the game," said Offers. "We just ran into a hot goaltender."
Dartmouth is without a victory after three games for the first time in more than eight years. Nevertheless, Big Green players refuse to panic, saying that the team's extensive preparation gives them more than enough confidence to get through a trouble-spot such as this one.
"It is definitely not time to hit the panic button," said Offers. "We have a great team, with some of the best players in the country. If we continue to work on our team game and play together as a unit there is nothing that this team can't do."
Fellow defenseman Grant Lewis '07 agreed, saying, "We don't lose our confidence over one weekend. There is a lot of character in our dressing room this year and faith is probably our team's biggest asset. We are a championship team and we know that."
As far as specific improvements are concerned, Lewis points to fundamentals as most imminently necessary. "I think this week of practice will consist of a lot of system work, passing, hitting the net, and specialty teams," said the junior defender.
"We have all the pieces of the puzzle and all we need to do is put them together," said Offers. "A hockey season is not a sprint; it is a marathon. We play 35 games in a season and I would rather have our troubles now then come playoff time."
Lewis summed up the sentiments of his teammates best when commenting on a disappointing weekend. "By no means are we satisfied with the games, but we are going to be a much better hockey team this weekend and in the future because of them," said the Pennsylvania native. "Adversity is not surprising, it is expected-- there are ups and downs and we are going to come across many obstacles throughout a season which we must overcome. We will learn from the weekend's games and move on."
Dartmouth returns to Thompson Arena this weekend for its regular season home debut. The Big Green faces off against league rival Colgate on Friday and will look to conquer No. 4 Cornell on Saturday. Both games get started at 7 p.m.