Men’s hockey rides hot and cold streaks to .500 ECAC record

by Olivia Morton | 4/10/20 2:05am

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One player from from each grade — Adrian Clark '20, Quin Foreman '21, Drew O'Connor '22 and Tanner Palocsik '23 — took home an All-Ivy League award this season.

by Lona Girardin / The Dartmouth

To say that the 2020 Eastern College Athletic Conference hockey season was a whirlwind would be an understatement, particularly for the Big Green. Finishing the season with a 13-14-4 record overall and 10-10-2 in the conference, Dartmouth just fell short of a winning season but had many strong performances that showcased its prowess.

The season got off to a slow start, with a preseason loss followed by two losses and a tie, all against ECAC competitors with the exception of the University of New Hampshire. The team’s first win came at home in a game featuring a long-standing tradition: tennis balls. After killing an early tripping penalty, the Big Green was off to the races against rival Princeton University as Will Graber ’20 scored an early goal off the faceoff and took advantage of a deflected shot by Drew O’Connor ’22. Tennis balls rained down on Thompson Arena, bouncing all around the rink alongside the student section’s cheers. With its first home win, the team headed into the next weekend with a new energy, conquering Ivy League opponents Yale University and Brown University on the road. 

After a break for finals and Thanksgiving, the Big Green jumped right back into the season with a frustrating loss against Colgate University but bounced back the next weekend with a huge win against Cornell University — a team that consistently ranked No. 1 in the country this season and was undefeated at the time.

“I think if you just look at our season as a whole, it was a good season,” alternate captain Cam Strong ’20 said. “It was a lot of fun. When we beat Cornell at home and Clarkson [University], both of those teams were in the top 10, and it really just proved that we can beat anybody.”

Next on the schedule was the Ledyard Classic — a historic staple of the Dartmouth hockey program and Thompson Arena since 1978. After beating both Colorado College and the University of Connecticut, the Big Green brought the trophy back home for the first time since the 2015-2016 season. Forward Quin Foreman ’21 was awarded MVP after scoring two goals in the title game to complete a comeback.

“Winning [the Ledyard Classic] against two really good teams was huge for us, and I think it gave us a lot of confidence and a lot of momentum,” Strong said. “We went through a really good stretch in the season … by midseason I think we knew we could pretty much beat anybody, and we kept some momentum going there.”

The team’s hot streak continued throughout most of January, with two momentous wins against Clarkson and Boston University, the latter of which was a spirited comeback. After the Big Green went down 3-0 in the first period, Matt Baker ’21, Foreman and Mark Gallant ’23 all got a tally on the board within one minute and 40 seconds of each other to tie up the game. A trick play goal put BU back ahead, but O’Connor quickly scored two goals in just 47 seconds. His second goal proved to be the winner. 

“A lot of games, we were down and we fought hard, never gave up to come back, and I think that says a lot about our team,” Strong said.

The end of the month and the next one proved much more challenging. Starting with a 3-2 loss to No. 1 Cornell on the road, the Big Green won only three of its last 11 regular season games. Going into the ECAC tournament, the team ranked sixth out of 12 teams. 

“[Against] Cornell-Colgate, even with the losses, we played really, really well, but against [Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute] and Union [College] we just weren’t ourselves,” coach Bob Gaudet ’81 said. “We played hard for the remainder of the season, but we battled a lot of hockey adversity situations — we battled a lot of injuries and nagging stuff — but I really appreciated that we just had a ‘next man up’ mentality. Everybody seemed to play hard.’” 

Facing No. 11 seed Princeton — a team which the Big Green conquered twice earlier in the season — in the first round of the postseason tournament, Dartmouth was eliminated after two incredibly close overtime games, though the spread of COVID-19 ultimately canceled the rest of the tournament.

“It wasn’t from a lack of effort or anything like that; it’s tough to beat a team four times and have them come back,” Gaudet said. 

Gaudet said that it was a particularly emotional defeat for the seniors.

“I was struck recently by a photo I saw of Cameron Strong,” Gaudet said. “It was well after the final game, and he was still in uniform, just sort of looking out at the ice from the hallway. It really struck me because all those guys have played their last game, and it ended so quickly.”

Despite the difficulties down the stretch, the team still came out of the season with multiple accolades. Goaltender Adrian Clark ’20, Foreman, O’Connor and rookie Tanner Palocsik ’23 all earned spots on All-Ivy League teams at the end of the season. 

“You don’t really go into your freshman year expecting to have as much success as I did, and to get those honors was definitely really special for me,” Palocsik said. “To have all the other guys awarded spots on the team as well just bodes well for the players that we have on our team and the talent that we had this year.”

Gaudet said that he was incredibly proud of all of his players, but he praised Palocsik in particular for his commendations during his rookie season. 

“Tanner Paloscik is this year’s version of Drew O’Connor as a freshman,” Gaudet said. “Palocsik led the country in rookie defenseman scoring, and we played fewer games than some of the schools. I think for this guy to come out of junior hockey and jump into Division I seamlessly really, he’s just a fabulous player and a really, really talented kid.”

Looking ahead to next winter, the team will be playing without nine seniors and will also lose top scorer Drew O’Connor as he heads to Pittsburgh to play in the National Hockey League for the Penguins. Some holes must be filled by returning players next season.

“I have no doubt that there will be guys who step up and expand their roles because there are plenty of guys that have a good number of games under their belt,” Strong said. “I just have a lot of confidence in the group for next year, especially considering that the captain is returning, Brendan Demler [’21]. Having that same leadership at the top is going to be great for the team, and I’m excited to see how they do because they had a great season here, and we can continue to improve on that.”

Gaudet is optimistic for next season, given the impressive incoming freshman class. 

“We have a really good freshman group coming in,” Gaudet said, “When we lose good players, it opens up playing time for other guys, and usually what happens is guys come and fill that void, whether it’s one guy or a couple guys, whoever picks up the slack. I feel really good with our returning guys and the incoming freshman. We’ll have a good team.”