HANOVER, N.H. — You’re never too old for a new sensation.
Lee Stempniak’s days at Dartmouth are dwindling, but he’s still enjoying moments he’s missed during his first three ECAC Hockey League seasons. He discovered what beating New Hampshire was all about last month, and Friday night he added his first win over Harvard, a 2-1 overtime thriller before 4,325 at Thompson Arena that kept the Big Green in the hunt for the conference’s last first-round tournament bye.
Junior Mike Ouellette scored both Dartmouth goals, and Stempniak factored in each. Ouellette banged home the rebound of a Stempniak shot at 16:27 of the third period to put Dartmouth up, 1-0, and he added a second on a Stempniak centering pass with 31.2 seconds left in overtime.
Ryan Maki answered Ouellette’s first with 1:14 to go in regulation, but Harvard (18-8-2 overall, 15-5-1 league) couldn’t produce a confidence-sapping replay of its last-minute 2-1 defeat of Dartmouth (16-10-2, 13-8-0) from three weekends back.
“I still don’t know how they scored the game-tying goal,” said Stempniak, who saw Dartmouth end a nine-game winless streak to its Ivy League nemesis. “When they came by whoopin’ and hollerin’, I was thinking that it might be the same old story. But we stuck with it, and it’s a great one to win. It’s a big one.”
The contest also marked the return to action for Dartmouth junior Hugh Jessiman, who had been sidelined since Nov. 6 because of ankle ligament surgery. Jessiman, who had been practicing with the Big Green for two weeks, received a clean bill of health last week and got the nod to return to action from Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet after practice on Thursday.
“I thought he played real well,” Gaudet said of Jessiman, who recorded one shot on goal and drew a coincidental minor for unsportsmanlike conduct with Harvard’s Charlie Johnson late in the second period. “We’ll see how he feels (today) and if he says he feels good, we’ll get him back in there.”
Both Harvard netminder Dov Grumet-Morris (30 saves) and Dartmouth counterpart Dan Yacey (23 saves) starred through more than two and a half periods of scoreless hockey.
Grumet-Morris caught the game’s biggest break in the first period when Dartmouth’s Nick Johnson pinged the crossbar on a backhander in the early going. The senior also had the save of the night by stoning the Big Green’s Eric Przepiorka on a second-period breakaway, a feat Yacey matched when he robbed the Crimson’s Peter Hafner off a defensive-zone turnover late in the stanza.
Ouellette finally broke through with 3:33 left, potting the rebound of a Stempniak left-dot shot. However, just four seconds after Harvard coach Ted Donato called a timeout, Maki surprised the screened Yacey from the right dot after a faceoff to bring the Crimson level.
Ouellette made the difference at 4:28 of overtime, screaming — literally and figuratively — down the slot and yelling for a pass, which the junior banged past Grumet-Morris from the right slot.
“I thought we had the better chances coming down the stretch, especially in overtime,” Donato said, “but Ouellette made a heck of a play on the goal. We had pretty good coverage. Not much you can do.”
Dartmouth remains two points behind Vermont in the chase for the fourth and final first-round bye in the ECACHL tournament. The Big Green must beat Brown Saturday and hope for a UVM loss to Harvard in Burlington in order to get the extra week’s rest.
Greg Fennell covers Dartmouth hockey for the Valley News of West Lebanon, N.H.