On Oct. 31, the men’s ice hockey team will formally kick off its 2015-16 season with a home game against Harvard University. The team has finished within the top five seeds in the competitive ECAC conference 11 of the last 15 years and in second place in the Ivy League four of the last five years. The previous season added to the team’s historic success, as the team tied for fourth place in the 12-team ECAC with Colgate University and finished in second place in the Ivy League behind Yale University. The team went on to sweep Princeton University in two games before falling to Colgate in the second round of the ECAC Hockey playoffs. Led by head coach Bob Gaudet ’81, the Big Green looks to build off last year’s strong season.
“We have a really good style level of play that we’ve evolved into,” Gaudet said. “We play really hard. Now it’s just trying to fit guys in this year.”
Gaudet was also impressed with the team’s preparation for the season.
“It’s a great group of guys,” Gaudet said. “They all came in the beginning of the term in great shape so they were all very accountable in their offseason training.”
After starting official practices on Oct. 9, the team played its first exhibition match against the USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program last Saturday night. Despite early goals from Dartmouth’s Corey Kalk ’18 and Josh Hartley ’17, the team trailed 4-2 by the early third period. As the third period progressed, Dartmouth tied the game thanks to Nick Bligh ’16 and Alex Jasiek ’19, each scoring a goal apiece. The comeback bid fell just short, as USNTDP’s Clayton Keller scored a power play goal with 21 seconds left in regulation to secure the win 5-4.
Although it was an exhibition game and does not count for the Big Green’s record, Grant Opperman ’17 finds the exhibition games to be very useful.
“It’s nice to play those games because as much as you try to replicate games in practice, there’s a lot of situations in games that really occur organically in a game,” Opperman said. “It’s nice to get rust out.”
Geoff Ferguson ’16 agreed, analyzing the takeaways of the game.
“I thought we had a really good neutral zone game, but it was definitely evident that our defense needs a lot of work.” Ferguson said. “All in all, [the game] was a blast.”
The team looks to continue improving in the upcoming practices, including the “small parts of the game, such as stick-handling and little small skillwork,” Troy Crema ’17 said.
In addition, due to this year’s large graduating senior class, the team needs to form new lineups. Gaudet said he looks forward to the challenge.
“It’s going to be an exciting season because there’s going to be a lot of opportunity for guys,” Gaudet said. “Whether it’s veteran players to play on different spots on the team or younger players to fill different spots on the team, there’s a lot of good playing time.”
In addition to improving skills and developing a lineup, the team also looks to continue building team chemistry. Gaudet, who is entering his 19th season, said this year’s team chemistry is “as tight as I’ve ever been a part of.”
“We climbed Mount Moosilauke two weeks ago on Monday,” Crema said, describing one of the more memorable bonding moments. “That was quite the adventure. Guys had to carry one another. By the end of the night, we couldn’t see our hands in front of our face. At the end of the day, it was a really good team-bonding experience.”
A major reason for the team chemistry is the team’s senior class. With a total of 10 members, Dartmouth’s ice hockey team is tied with the Miami University in Ohio in having the largest senior class in the country. The seniors bring valuable guidance and leadership to the locker room.
“They just bring a whole lot of leadership, experience and different things they’ve learned not just from here, but from junior hockey as well. Most have been playing for 18, 19, 20 years,” Opperman said. “That whole experience just allows us to grow further as a team. Freshmen can talk to them on and off the court. They lead by example very well.”
One of the seniors, James Kruger ’16, was named as one of 20 individuals on the prestigious Mike Richter Award watch list. Nominations are determined from 60 NCAA Division I men’s coaches, and are based off past accomplishments and future potential. Kruger had a school record-breaking year last season, only allowing 1.88 goals per game.
“Kruger is an amazing goalie, an amazing guy on and off the ice. He’s a great student,” Crema said. “He brings a level of leadership and security back there. We can play with greater confidence knowing that.”
Crema and the team look forward to the new season ahead.
“Going into this season, we have a strong group of guys,” Crema said. “We feel like we have a good team dynamic and together, we can really accomplish something and make a run at this thing.
The team will wrap up its preseason on Saturday night, hosting the University of Prince Edward Island at 7 p.m. inside Thompson Arena. The team will then play its first regular season game on Oct. 31 against Harvard, one of the top-ranked teams in the league.