Men’s hockey drops two, loses shot at bye

by Sam Stockton | 2/28/16 6:30pm

The women's basketball team won against Brown University before losing a close game to Yale University.

The men’s hockey team dropped a pair of road games this weekend, missing out on a first-round bye in the ECAC Tournament. The team instead set itself up for a matchup with Colgate University in the tournament’s opening round next weekend. Dartmouth is set to host.

On Friday night against St. Lawrence University, the Big Green jumped out to a 2-0 lead by the 11-minute mark of the opening frame on the strength of a pair of goals from the red-hot Corey Kalk ’18. Kalk, the ECAC’s reigning player of the week, would score again on Saturday night against Clarkson, giving him five goals in his past three games.

“He has one of the most lethal shots of anyone I’ve ever played with,” Brett Patterson ’16 said. “He’s seen very good results lately, and it’s great to have that confidence going for him going into the playoffs where we’re going to need a lot of scoring.”

Less than 30 seconds after Kalk made it 2-0 Dartmouth, Saints winger Mike Marnell beat Big Green goaltender James Kruger ’16 to cut the lead in half. The Saints would not look back from there, scoring twice more before the period was up, taking a 3-2 lead into the first intermission. They would control the play for the rest of the game, adding a pair of goals in the third period for a 5-2 victory. After Kalk’s second marker, the Big Green struggled to generate offense of any kind, and, by the game’s end, the team was outshot 37-18.

“I think we kind of let them off the hook,” Grant Opperman ’17 said. “They have a good goalie, but it seemed like he was having an off night early on. I think a big part of their success comes from their blue line — their D-men are so mobile, and we didn’t really have much of an answer for that. Some teams will roll over after giving up two that early, but obviously, they stuck with it, chipped away, and scored five unanswered.”

The Friday night defeat was a disappointing one for a Big Green team that had hoped to take a strangle-hold on a first-round bye in the conference tournament against the Saints. Instead, the loss gave St. Lawrence the final of four byes in the tournament, leaving the Big Green with potential first-round match-ups with Brown University, Colgate University and Princeton University.

“We’ve got some guys that are banged up, myself included, so that bye would have been huge from a rest standpoint,” Opperman said. “But at the end of the day, if you’re going to win a championship, you’re going to have to play the best teams.”

On Saturday, the Big Green travelled to Potsdam, New York to take on the Clarkson University Golden Knights with seeding for the ECAC Tournament still on the line. The Big Green answered an early Clarkson goal with a power play strike from Nick Bligh ’16. The goal was Bligh’s first since returning from a 13-game absence due to injury, though Bligh had played the previous night against St. Lawrence.

“Nick is a really talented player, and he brought so much to our team for the first half of the year, so it was tough to see him go down against Vermont,” Troy Crema ’17 said. “He brings a whole element of leadership, skill and confidence to the team. When he’s in the lineup, we know we’re going to get a great performance from him, and it just allows everyone around him to play with an elevated level of confidence.”

The game also marked the first power play goal for the Big Green since Ryan Bullock ’16 tied the game with a one-timer in the third period of a win over Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute on Feb. 13.

“To be honest, I don’t think our power play has been particularly good all year,” Opperman said. “Our coaches always reiterate that the power play is more about generating momentum than scoring goals. Sometimes those shots will go in, but getting those chances, staying in the zone, and getting that attack time are what power plays are about.”

Patterson also emphasized that shots on goal are key to getting the power play back on track, pointing out that when the Big Green man advantage was willing to fire, it saw good results.

“We’ve been trying to force too many things and not relying on using our shots to open things up,” he said. “On Saturday, Ryan Bullock takes a shot and creates a little chaos. Then Brad Schierhorn [’16] makes a good cross-box pace over to Bligh [resulting in a goal]. We need to have a shot first mentality and go into reaction mode from there.”

Late in the first, Jordan Boucher scored his second goal of the night to give Clarkson a 2-1 edge after 20 minutes of play. For the second night in a row, the Big Green were able to generate first period momentum, but end up heading into the locker room down a goal.

“We just gave up too many odd-man rushes – a couple bad bounces where they had guys in the right spots and got a couple breakaways,” Crema said. “Overall, I thought we played really good hockey. It was definitely a step forward in the right direction.”

In the second period, Clarkson stretched its lead to 4-1 before Tim O’Brien ’16 put the Big Green back in the game late in the frame. At the second intermission, Clarkson led by a score of 4-2.

In the final stanza, the Big Green outshot their opposition 11-5 but only Kalk was able to beat Golden Knight netminder Greg Lewis, as the Big Green’s furious comeback bid fell short. Charles Grant ’16, who made 23 saves along the way, took the loss for the Big Green in net.

“We put our nose down, got pucks deep and got on their D,” Patterson said. “They’ve got a lot of big guys, but we kept getting pucks to the net and kept making their goalie move. I think a few bounces the other way and we come out with a win. We didn’t put together a full 60 minutes, and we had a couple of lapses that they capitalized on. You can’t have that late in the season. We can’t leave our goalie out to dry with three breakaways in the first period and expect to be successful.”

The loss dropped the Big Green to the seventh seed in the ECAC tournament, meaning they will host a best-of-three series against the Colgate Raiders at Thompson Arena this weekend. The Big Green swept the season series against Colgate, winning 3-2 in Hamilton, New York on Jan. 23 and 5-2 on Feb. 19 at Thompson. Last season, the Raiders ended Dartmouth’s season in the quarterfinals of the tournament; the Big Green hopes it can get its revenge this year.

“If you were to ask any guy on the team, this is the team we don’t like the most,” Opperman said. “We don’t like this team. It all stems from last year — they ended our season — so it would be awesome to return the favor.”