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This Week in the ECAC

College Hockey:
This Week in ECAC Hockey: Dec. 4, 2008

Unlike your fridge, this column isn’t packed with leftovers from last week. This column won’t start turning yellow or dripping on your floor or absorbing neighboring columns, it hasn’t been declared a federal biohazard and it doesn’t smell like feet. It doesn’t have any tryptophan, either, so hopefully it won’t put you to sleep.

Freshly fried nuggets of unidentifiable hockey byproduct, ahoy!

Now Playing in Sweden …

… the Stor Grn of Dartmouth College. (That’s “Big Green,” in Swedish.)

The Hanover hockey club is going intercontinental this month, playing four games in ten days in Copenhagen and Stockholm. (The Big Green will be the Grote Onnozel in Denmark, for those of you who were wondering.) Fortuitous scheduling concluded the Green’s first-semester docket last weekend, leaving the team a week off for finals before the European tour.

“We set up this trip … as kind of a bonding experience for the guys, and also as a cultural trip,” said head coach Bob Gaudet. “We’re going to a hockey-playing area; we’ll attend a pro game in the Stockholm area [as fans] … and play against some good competition.”

The games — one in Copenhagen and three in Stockholm — will feature the Big Green (or however they’re introduced) against local junior teams. While the opportunity may have been available to schedule a professional opponent, Gaudet prefers to pit his young players against foes of roughly the same age. Plus, it couldn’t hurt to show some of the up-and-coming Scandinavian talent exactly what college hockey has to offer.

“There might be some type of recruiting possibility,” the coach allowed. “It’s been a long time since a D-I team took a trip to a [European] hockey-playing area.”

And that much is definitely true. While other NCAA sports feature regular exhibition trips abroad, college hockey has been rigidly domestic: the only international contests I can recall have been the rare Canadian excursion, la Rensselaer’s match with Vermont in Quebec earlier this fall. The NCAA allows programs to take an international trip once every four years, and Dartmouth is taking the association up on its offer.

The entire team will be traveling, including injured players, and Gaudet is looking forward not only to the experience, but also to playing some games under a lot less pressure. Lines will be jumbled, all three goalies are expected to play, as will other players who don’t get much ice time in ultra-intense ECAC contests. The individuals aren’t even on the hook for the trip; funds have been stockpiled for the past few years to make this journey a reality.

The idea had been percolating in Gaudet’s mind for some time now, but a previous attempt was foiled when Dartmouth’s former travel partner, Vermont, left the conference for Hockey East. The window of time originally prospected for the trip was suddenly cleaved by a necessary Harvard game in the middle of DC’s winter break.

But now it has all come to fruition. Gaudet is even optimistic that some alumni of the College on the Hill will find their way into the stands; the alma mater claims that “’round the girdled Earth they roam,” and the words may well ring true.

“Eric Przepiorka ['06] plays in southern Sweden,” said the coach, “and he [hopes to] see us in Denmark. Steve Higgins played with me at Dartmouth, and he’ll be over there … there are about 40 Dartmouth alumni in Sweden, and I’ve heard from some people who are excited to hear the College is coming over.”

As for the first semester’s results, Gaudet has been pleased with his team’s surprising success. Much of that has been the product of universal dedication on the part of its components.

“I mentioned it before, we have good depth in terms of guys at each position. [Goalie Jody] O’Neill has played all but one game for us … but we have good solid goaltenders pushing [him too],” he said. “There’s a good mix of guys on a daily basis pushing to get better.”

The team’s six leading scorers are composed of five sophomores and one frosh (Doug Jones), and the offense has been stellar for the program picked 11th in the league by the coaches, media, and myself. Freshman O’Neill has held the opposition to under two goals a game, and is stopping over 94 percent of shots faced.

“I don’t blame people for picking us down this year,” said Gaudet. “In a two-year stretch, we lost some incredible firepower … and marquee names, for this level.”

But the wheels keep on turning in the Granite State, thanks in no small part to the leadership of the captain.

“Rob Pritchard’s … a guy that typifies our team. He will do whatever it takes to be successful,” praised Gaudet. “He’s selfless, well-spoken … there’s no class structure on our team. Rob sets the tone; he’s a good example on the ice and in the classroom.”

The comprehensive work ethic of the Big Green has kept the team on track, and the seasoned coach said that “the effort and execution has been consistent.

“We just keep chipping away,” he said.

Still Some Noise in the ‘Tute

Don’t count the RPI Engineers out just yet.

The club may have a woeful 2-10-1 record, but coach Seth Appert isn’t ready to throw in the towel on the season; there are still plenty of rounds left to fight.

“You gain confidence from winning games,” he said. “We went through [this] a little bit my first years here … when I was at Denver, one year before winning 32 games (which they did in 2001-02) we were staring at a 2-7-0 record to start the year, and we finished fairly strong (19-15-4 final record). We had 11 wins my first year at Denver (11-25-2).”

Of course, the Pioneers went on to win back-to-back national championships in the springs of 2004 and 2005, and haven’t had a losing season since 1999-00. Appert has seen stories of redemption firsthand.

“We need to focus on what we can control,” he said. “[The fans] want us to win and expect us to win. I understand their frustration, but I see where we’re headed in the future.”

Already looking at a few well-reviewed recruits for next year, the current Engineers aren’t looking that far ahead.

“Right now we need to be consistently focused on being a better defensive team,” said the coach, reiterating past assessments that RPI is not “a four-goal-a-game team” right now.

“We have guys gripping the sticks a little tight,” he added. Rensselaer has only scored three goals twice all year — never more — but has been held to a goal or less in nine of 13 contests. “It’s almost comical how many easy chances we’re missing,” Appert mused. “At one point, it was 0-0 against Northeastern (on Saturday), and we had 24 square feet of net to shoot at,” but rushed it, he said.

Because of all the chances that the ‘Tute is generating, even if they’re not going in, Appert isn’t worried about getting over the one-goal hump. The goals will come with a little luck, which breeds a little confidence … or perhaps the other way around.

A couple combos that have looked good so far have been the Chase Polacek — Tyler Helfrich duo (“could be better, but playing well”) and Matt Angers-Goulet — Seth Klerer (“two of our best defensive forwards and penalty killers”). Freshman Josh Rabbani has also received attention from both his coach and the fans, who love his energy on the ice.

“He’s one of our most consistent players,” praised his coach. “He provides a physical element, which we don’t have a lot of,” as well as a presence down low.

Overall, Appert is an energetic and optimistic guy, and those are infectious qualities. On the whole, he says, you have to keep things in perspective … even if it’s just a hockey perspective.

“When looking at our record, it’s frustrating, no question about it … but we’ve played five league games. We have more than 75 percent of our season ahead of us.”

Facts are facts, and Appert is out to prove that rumors of RPI’s demise are invariably fictional.

Worst in the Rear-View?

Clarkson is hoping hard that the toughest part of its season is fading into the past. Dropping to 2-7-3 (and 1-5-0 in league) in the

USCHO covers the ECAC all week long on the ECAC Blog, with weekend recaps on Monday, picks on Friday, and updates during the week.


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