HANOVER, N.H. — Happy birthday, Bob Gaudet.
Dartmouth gave its coach the perfect 43rd birthday gift Saturday night, defeating Colgate 4-1 to complete a sweep of an ECAC first-round playoff series at Thompson Arena.
The game was tied at one to start the third period, but that’s when Dartmouth took control.
Senior Frank Nardella and junior Kent Gillings scored only one minute, 49 seconds apart early in the period as the Big Green (14-12-5) earned a return trip to Lake Placid, N.Y., for the ECAC Final Five next weekend.
“We played a really solid game and I thought we played a great third period,” said Gaudet, who turned 43. “We had another gear in the third where the guys really got after it and got it done. We’re excited.”
Nardella’s game-winner came on a power play. Fighting to keep his balance in a scrum in front of the crease, Nardella found a Chris Baldwin rebound and flipped in his seventh of the year at 5:13 of the third period.
“It felt awesome to score,” Nardella said of his game-winner. “It felt great to go on top. Then Gillings put us up by two and we knew we would win. It’s very satisfying.”
The fourth-seeded Big Green will face Rensselaer on Thursday in the play-in game for the right to face Cornell in the semifinals.
That will mean the third straight year in which the Big Green and the Engineers have faced each other in the playoffs. Two years ago, RPI swept Dartmouth in a first-round series, while last year, Dartmouth did the same thing to RPI.
In the regular season, the Big Green beat the Engineers, 4-2, on Jan. 26 and tied them, 2-2, on Feb. 1.
The trip to Lake Placid will be the second in a row for Dartmouth. Last year, the Big Green beat Vermont, 3-2, in overtime in the play-in game before losing to eventual champion St. Lawrence in the semifinals.
“Something about this is even sweeter than last year,” Baldwin said. “It was such a chippy series and we had double overtime last night. To come back tonight and sweep in front of the big crowd was pretty special.”
From the start of the season, Dartmouth and its seven senior forwards were very clear that their goal was nothing less than an ECAC championship.
A night after winning the longest game in school history, the Big Green took a big step toward that goal.
After the game, the seniors celebrated their triumphant last appearance at Thompson Arena by taking an emotional victory lap. They raised their sticks to crowd several times and tapped the glass in front of the frenzied student section.
“Over the four years, the fans have gotten better and better as the team has gotten better,” senior Gary Hunter said. “That means a lot to us. It was nice to be able to take that lap. It was a way of saying ‘Thank you.’”
Said Nardella: “We all want to do it right this year and go out on top. We know we’re a good enough team where we can go to Lake Placid and win the championship. We have to get it done.”
Less than 24 hours after backstopping more than 34 minutes of scoreless overtime, sophomore netminder Darren Gastrock came up with the best game of his collegiate career.
He made 38 saves, including 14 in the third period, and allowed only a P.J. Yedon wraparound goal on a Colgate power play.
Gastrock, who has battled for playing time throughout his career and has usually spelled Nick Boucher’s backup, was sparkling over the weekend and will lead the team into Lake Placid.
“We’re right where we want to be,” Gastrock said. “We have momentum, we’re feeling good about scoring and we’re feeling good about defense. We’re looking forward to Lake Placid.”
Colgate (13-19-2) ends a season in which its young team battled hard to make the playoffs after starting the year with a dismal 3-11-0 run.
The Raiders, who went to the NCAA Tournament two seasons ago but missed the playoffs last year, fought Dartmouth tooth and nail, not allowing the home team many good looks at the net, but had trouble scoring after Friday night’s marathon game.
Head coach Don Vaughan was upbeat after the game.
“I’m very proud of our team,” he said. “We’ve come a long way. We set some goals early in the new year and we reached them. I’m very proud of the team. With so many young guys, we have a bright future ahead of us.”
The teams traded goals in the first period. Dartmouth rookie Lee Stempniak scored only 51 seconds in, but Yedon netted his 11th of the year on a power play late in the period to make it 1-1.
Nardella’s game-winner came at 5:13 of the third period. At 7:02, Gillings sent one in from long-distance that trickled between Cann’s legs for a big insurance goal.
Senior Chris Taliercio added an empty netter in the final minute, punching the team’s ticket for Lake Placid.