Men’s hockey gets ready to take on No. 1 Quinnipiac, Princeton
The men’s hockey team will host Quinnipiac and Princeton Universities this weekend as it looks to extend its five-game winning streak. Thanks to an aggressive style of play in all three zones, the Big Green has not lost since a Jan. 8 defeat at the University of Vermont, the team’s lone loss of 2016.
“We’ve been playing really hard as a team — we’ve really been competing,” head coach Bob Gaudet ’81 said. “Our team defense, our timely scoring and our specialty teams have been excellent, as well as our goaltending, and we’re competing really hard in what amounts to be amongst the toughest schedules in Division 1 college hockey.”
Over the course of the streak, the team has skyrocketed up the national polls. PairWise, a ranking used to determine the NCAA tournament field, ranks the team No. 18. Despite the newfound national attention, Gaudet remains unconcerned with rankings.
“There’s nothing that matters less in my world,” he said. “With our players, it’s a focus on the process. We control our work ethic, our attitude and our preparation. So what we try to do is try to get better every day. I’ve been doing this for 34 years or so, and it means nothing until the very end.”
While Gaudet maintains that the team does not concern itself with polls, forward Troy Crema ’17 admits that a certain contingent of the team does check out the team’s rankings every week.
“The postseason is always in the back of your mind, but you try to take it game by game,” Crema said. “I know a bunch of us after every game are always looking at the PairWise to see where we’re ranked.”
A key factor in the Big Green’s current win streak has been veteran goaltender Charles Grant ’16, who was just named ECAC goaltender of the week for the second time this month. Grant previously earned the honor following his performance in the team’s Ledyard Classic victory. In the month of January, Grant’s .953 save percentage and seven wins led Division 1 at the time of his award, and his 1.26 goals against average is good for fourth in the country. The team will lean on its star goaltender as it takes on the No. 1 ranked Quinnipiac Bobcats on Friday night.
Gaudet said he looks forward to the challenge of playing such a strong team that has lost just one game this season.
“They’re the top team in the country, and in all facets of the game, they’re excellent,” he said. “We just have to be on top of our game. They’re really good offensively, they’re very good defensively and they compete very hard. Their specialty teams are excellent. I think their power play is the best in the country. They’re a very formidable opponent, so we have to be on top of our game.”
Despite the Bobcats skill, there is plenty of reason for optimism for the Big Green, based on the team’s recent history.
Last season, in a November match-up with the then-No. 1 ranked Boston University Terriers, the Big Green was able to pull off a 2-0 upset victory against a team that featured current Buffalo Sabres star Jack Eichel. This time around, the team will again not be intimidated by the top-ranked team in the nation.
“It definitely gives us confidence knowing that we’ve been in this spot before against the number one team,” captain Brad Schierhorn ’16, who scored both goals in the victory over BU, said. “Normally, if you’re facing the number one team in the country you might be a little nervous, but because we have that experience from last year, we can just approach it like it’s any other game.”
Crema added that this Quinnipiac team has similar talent to last year’s Terriers.
“I’m sure Quinnipiac has a few prospects that will go on to play pro hockey after this year, so we’re just going in with the same mindset [as they had against BU] — stick to our game plan, work hard and play our game,” he said. “It’s been working well for us.”
On Saturday night, the Big Green will take on a Princeton Tigers team that Gaudet holds in high esteem.
“Princeton is an excellent team,” he said. “The first time we played them was a very tough game, and they are a very good offensive team. They’re very structured defensively, and they’ve got good goaltending.”
Among the Big Green faithful, the Princeton game is known for students lobbing a traditional volley of tennis balls following Dartmouth’s first goal. According to Crema, the team enjoys the tradition, and it will have some effect on the game.
“I’m sure our shot count will be up in the first period,” he said with a laugh, acknowledging that every skater would love to be the one to trigger the onslaught of tennis balls.
Gaudet’s focus lies more on ensuring that the team stays focused despite the fan enthusiasm.
“My hope is that the tradition with the tennis balls doesn’t hurt us in any way because this game is such a difficult game for us,” he said, smiling. “If we’re fortunate enough to score, we just want to make sure we have an opportunity to score again and not have to kill off penalties.”
In injury-related news, Nick Bligh ’16, who has not played since the loss at Vermont, will remained sidelined this weekend according to Gaudet but has resumed skating and is hard at work with the training staff to get back on the ice.
Between the showdown with top-ranked Quinnipiac and grudge match with Princeton, it is sure to be a lively weekend for the Big Green at Thompson Arena.