When it comes to Dartmouth, it’s as if you can feel the wrapping coming off the package. This is a team that was picked to challenge for the league title last year, but fell short. This is a team that has no standout player, but possesses a lot of good, bordering on great, skaters. This is a team that consistently beats the teams it should but struggles against the ones above.
This is a team surely ready to make some noise this year — in the ECAC and maybe beyond.
“You go out, you play the game, you play hard and that’s what we’re after,” said head coach Bob Gaudet, entering his fifth year at Dartmouth. “Looking back at my career here at Dartmouth, our team is getting to the point of national respect and in the league, and that’s what I was hoping for when I came here.
“That’s something we’ve been gearing towards here. We don’t want to be a team lying in the weeds, we want to be a team that is a force to be reckoned with. We wanted a team that can be competitive on a national level.”
Aside from Cornell, there is no other team that comes close to matching the defensive strength of the Big Green. Last season, Dartmouth boasted the fourth-best scoring defense in the ECAC, allowing just 2.82 goals per game. This year, they return every single blueliner save Dory Tisdale, who was the sole senior defensemen on the squad.
The main man will once again be junior Trevor Byrne, who continues to establish himself as one of the best defensemen in the league. His size, strength and game sense make him virtually impossible to beat one-on-one, while a powerful slapshot and movement along the blue line make him one of the team’s biggest weapons on the power play.
He will be joined by another strong defenseman in Pete Summerfelt. Those two combined for 43 points last year, which amounted to more than 60 percent of the defensive scoring. The other returners — although not as flashy as Byrne or Summerfelt — all bring with them another year of experience.
Sophomore Brian Van Abel and junior P.J. Martin combined to play 67 games as the second pair of defensemen last year. Sophomore Mike Turner, who played in all 34 games, is back for another season and could possibly find himself playing alongside a promising freshman named John Ostapyk.
Such a defense is a gift, but couple that with the fact that one of the league’s best goalies will be in your net, and it’s the ultimate luxury. Nick Boucher, regarded as a premier goalie in the East, returns for his third season between the pipes. Boucher has been a mainstay for the team since his arrival back in 1999, playing in 57 of 64 games.
Last season, the spunky netminder finished with 16 victories, a 2.56 goals against-average and a .912 save percentage. With two more years to play, Boucher is already ranked fourth on the school’s career victories list.
“We’ve built a team over the past few years; we’ve gone from being a very young team and we’re looking for good things,” said Gaudet. “I’m not one to put the cart before the horse. We have a good skill level. We’re big and strong where we need to be, we’re quick and skilled where we need to be and we have a good goaltender in Nick Boucher. We’re looking forward to it and it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
The offense will be able to hold its own as well, thanks to the return of eight of its top nine scorers. Leading the way, both in statistics and on the ice, will be senior co-captain Mike Maturo, who finished his third year with a team-high 18 goals and 15 assists. Most impressive for Maturo, however, was the fact that he came up with six game-winning tallies.
Another key figure will be the other captain on the squad — Jamie Herrington. A great two-way player, Herrington finished with 23 points on the year, but also a -7 in the plus/minus category.
“There is a great core of guys that are classmates as seniors, and guys underneath as juniors that are into excelling,” said Gaudet. “The captains push the guys. I don’t have to be involved at any level — they lead by example. When you have captains like that it bodes well for the team.”
Also figuring into the offensive mix will be last year’s freshman surprise, Kent Gillings — the team’s second-leading scorer with 29 points — and seniors Chris Baldwin and Frank Nardella.
Although Gaudet has a relatively strong freshman class coming in, they won’t be the focal point. For the past four years, the coaching staff has been building this team with meticulous care. The senior class has been around for the entire ride and it is now their turn. Last year, the team took a step in getting to Lake Placid for the playoffs. This year, the bar of expectations has been raised.
“I pictured the team at Lake Placid, I pictured our school’s banner being raised to the scoreboard there and I was real happy to see our guys enjoy that process,” said Gaudet. “But they left with the bitter disappointment of not winning the championship. It was a nice step, but it wasn’t good enough for them. They were very, very disappointed in not winning. They were thinking that they could have done more and that’s driven them in the offseason. The experience factor of that has been crucial in our development.”
Dartmouth has been the young team for so long. For the first time in four years, the Big Green may have finally reached the point of maturity.