For the fourth straight season the Dartmouth Big Green came up short late in the ECAC tournament. Since the 2001-02 season, Dartmouth has finished fourth, fifth, third and fourth in the final stages of the league tournament despite having some squads that were capable of winning it all.
And while there’s something to be said for just getting there, head coach Bob Gaudet’s players know that they still have a significant hurdle to overcome.
“The guys were really upset when they left Albany,” said the bench boss about last season’s tournament disappointment. “They left with a bad taste and not happy that they didn’t come up with the goods. They’ve really trained hard since then.
“We’d love to get back there and get another chance.”
The Big Green may just get that chance as they rank once again as a team to beat in the league. The biggest reason for that is the return of some very important pieces, including captain and leading scorer Lee Stempniak, juniors Hugh Jessiman and Mike Ouellette and sophomore Grant Lewis.
“It says a lot that Hugh thinks highly enough of Dartmouth and his teammates to come back and play,” said Gaudet of his highest-profile player, who has been courted by the New York Rangers since they drafted him.
And while the returning talent level of the Big Green is impressive, Gaudet also welcomes a recruiting class that many consider the best in the league.
“Nick Johnson, David Jones, J.T. Wyman and Jon Grecu are forwards with good size and excellent potential. All were very good players in previous levels and all but Jones have been drafted. They will make an impact.”
On the blueline, freshman Will Boardman and junior transfer Ben Lovejoy add to the depth.
In goal, Dan Yacey returns, but will have some company in sophomore Sean Samuel and rookie Mike Devine.
“Sean will be a very good goalie,” said Gaudet, a standout netminder during his days as a player at Dartmouth. “Devine played on a team where he saw good action and a lot of shots. He will challenge. He’s a good skater and a good athlete.”
But in order for the recruits to make a difference, they’ll need to make the adjustment to the college game. That, as any coach will admit, is different for each player.
“It all starts with leadership,” explained Gaudet. “It’s a shared responsibility with all the veterans. It starts with the day they walk onto campus and are welcomed by the players. Lee sets the tone for the team.
“We will be in really good shape by midseason. Some [rookies] will be key cogs and instrumental in whatever success we have. We need to live with their mistakes right off the bat. We’ll put them into the mix right away and work to eliminate the repetitive mistakes.
“So much is about not trying to control the uncontrollable. We need to have a one-game mentality because there are so many that can come back to haunt you.”
The Big Green begin their game-to-game focus with a pair of home contest at the end of October against future ECAC member Quinnipiac and Connecticut.
“Regardless of where we finish,” said Gaudet. “on top or in the middle, we want to be playing our best hockey at the end of the season.”