PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The surprising Brown Bears proved they can pull out the close games too, as they edged visiting Dartmouth 4-2 on Saturday night. Junior forwards Pascal Denis and Brent Robinson combined for the game-winning score with just under eight minutes left to give Brown its third straight win to begin the 2002-2003 season.
Robinson, who appeared to give Brown a 3-1 lead with a late second-period goal which both referee and goal judge missed hit the center pipe in the back of the net, came up the right wing in the third with speed on a two on one with Denis. Robinson floated a perfect pass toward the front of the goal. Denis, who was flying in from the slot area with pressure on him, redirected the goal-mouth pass into the net to make it 3-2.
“I was just going as hard as I could to the net,” Denis said. “Brent made a great pass and I just got my stick on it.”
Much like Denis’ English, the Bears have improved much in the two years since Robinson and Denis were freshmen. The difference isn’t so much the talent, but rather Brown’s knack for cashing in on chances, especially in big spots.
Despite remaining unbeaten, Brown was outshot for the third straight time, 37 to 27. Yann Danis, coming off back-to-back shutouts to start the season, was finally beaten but made some of his best saves of the season, including 17 the first frame to once again carry his team to a big ECAC win.
“I can give Dartmouth a lot credit,” said Brown head coach Roger Grillo. “But we responded really well, especially in the third period. There is a lot of confidence in our locker room.”
Despite being outshot 18-6 in the period, Brown took an early 1-0 lead on its first scoring chance. Junior Adam Saunders picked up a loose puck after a blocked shot and fired it into the Big Green net.
Dartmouth responded with a power-play goal to end Danis’ streak of scoreless minutes in net at 127:15. Hobey Baker candidate Trevor Byrne took a low shot from the center point which freshman Hugh Jessiman tipped by Danis to make it 1-1.
Brown regained the lead just 35 seconds later. Sophomore Les Haggett, who is the early-season leading scorer and assisted on goal number one, teed off on a bouncing puck in the left slot to beat Dartmouth’s Darren Gastrock, who got the start in place of Nick Boucher.
This was the second time the line of Haggett, Saunders, and Shane Mudryk found the net. It appeared to be the beginning of a shootout, but Danis and Brown held the 2-1 lead until early in the third period. It was a big game for Haggett, who consistently has scored big goals for Brown in his first season and three games.
“The big difference this year is that you can see the drive in our older guys,” Haggett said. “Their leadership is really rubbing off on us. We’re playing great as a team right now and that is making the difference.”
Play went back and forth in an even second period. Robinson, on an odd-man scoring opportunity with Keith Kirley, appeared to make it 3-1 with a top-shelf goal, but the Big Green got a break and went into the third down by just one.
Lee Stempniak tied up the game 2-2 early in the third for Dartmouth. He came in hard on the right wing and cut in front of the crease before beating Danis with a backhand goal.
Danis stood on his head for much of the third to give his good friend Denis the chance to score the game winner. Brown held the lead late, and Dartmouth’s putting seven players on the ice with under a minute left (and getting penalized for it) marked the end of the game. Senior assistant captain Paul Esdale sealed the win just second later with an empty-net goal on a slapshot from the red line to make it 4-2.
“This was a game that could have gone either way,” said Dartmouth, and former Brown, head coach Bob Gaudet. “I thought our team played hard and I liked the effort and intensity.”
The Bears lineup, featuring not one freshman, is deep and experienced and will have a much-deserved week off before two long road trips in the upcoming weeks. They will travel to St. Lawrence and Clarkson, while Dartmouth hosts Cornell and Colgate.
The scariest thing is that Danis seems to be getting only better with each passing game. The raw talent has always been there, and his decision-making skills have become almost flawless. Next weekend he will try to duplicate last year’s trip to the North Country, in which he held allowed no goals in a pair of 2-0 wins.