Dartmouth didn’t respond to an exciting, offensively dynamic fifth-place run in 2008-09 quite the way most prognosticators had imagined. Instead of improving on a scintillating combination of chemistry and youthful energy, the Green fell apart almost literally from Day One.
Dartmouth lost its first six games — all of the league variety — and the three-game winning streak that followed ultimately proved to be a dead-cat bounce. Hanover Hockey finished in 10th place, allowing the third-most goals against despite middle-of-the-road offensive production. The Big Green took host Quinnipiac to a rubber game in the first round, but the scoring never materialized in a 2-1 season-ending defeat.
“I think the second half of last year, we came into our own a bit … especially the last quarter of the season, down the stretch,” seasoned coach Bob Gaudet said of a team that went 3-0-2 in its last five regular-season contests. “That was the competitiveness of our team; we had a team that really battled. Battled every shift, and it didn’t always work out for us … but I liked where our team kind of evolved to. Now, we’re trying to get our team to start off at a higher level — to come out of the gate and learn those lessons a bit earlier.”
Thompson Arena welcomes back Dartmouth’s top nine scorers from last season, including the electric Scott Fleming, Adam Estoclet and Evan Stephens. When the team seemed so young and inexperienced during its stunning run two years back, it’s now a seasoned squad that has seen the league from very disparate points of view.
“One of the biggest things that we have now is experience. We have nine seniors on our team,” Gaudet said. “I feel like our leadership is going to be excellent. We have that group of seniors but we also have a big group of juniors as well.”
The coach also expressed great confidence in his side’s ability to stay strong in spite of potential challenges: “We’re deeper at every position than we have been in many many years,” he said.
The weak links
Dartmouth’s biggest worry isn’t the unknown — it’s the been-there, done-that. A disastrous start last year more or less doomed the team to a perpetual state of catch-up and frustration, and that sense of desperate imbalance led to inconsistency in all areas of Dartmouth’s game.
“I don’t think we’re going to be [worse] in any area, to be honest,” Gaudet said. “We had a rough start last year … but a lot of that is that we play in a very good league and we play a very tough schedule, and we have to be ready right out of the gate.
“That’s where I think the experience is going to help us, and also the depth. I don’t think we’re going to be weaker in any area.”
This is a team with a lot to prove, but a lot of weapons, too. Dartmouth kind of epitomizes the state of ECAC Hockey as a whole this year: With any given team, you can imagine feast or famine with so little effort. The Big Green just happen to be the team with the most potential, but all unproven. I’ll peg the Green for a first-round home series, but a bye may be a stretch.