HANOVER, N.H. — It took three months, but the Dartmouth Big Green has gone from zero to heroes.
Behind the shutout goaltending of sophomore Mike Devine and goals from Jarrett Sampson, Tanner Glass and Nick Johnson, the Big Green blanked No. 18 St. Lawrence last night, 3-0, to claim a share of the ECAC Hockey League regular-season championship.
It’s the first in program history, and it gives Dartmouth (16-11-2 overall, 14-6-2 league) reason to raise its first banner in Thompson Arena in 26 years. Big Green coach Bob Gaudet was part of that 1979-80 team, which won the program’s last Ivy League title and made its last NCAA tourney appearance.
The Ivy crown waits for another year, while an NCAA bid will still probably require an ECAC tournament championship to be realized. Even knowing that, the Big Green took the time to celebrate, embracing each other on the Thompson ice in the universal signal of hockey accomplishment.
“It’s more the fact that we won the game,” Devine said. “Coming into this game, it would be fun to win a championship. We haven’t won one in a while. To do it with a shutout just adds to it. It just feels awesome.”
With Colgate icing Union earlier in the evening for its share of the William J. Cleary Cup, Dartmouth had to stop the Saints (18-14-2 overall, 12-9-1 league) to earn both league honors and the league tourney’s top seed. St. Lawrence arrived more than an hour late, stalled in traffic by an interstate accident in southern New Hampshire, yet had the better legs until Dartmouth awoke in the second period.
Sampson made use of a misguided Brock McBride pass to put Dartmouth on the board at 7:10 of the middle stanza. Sampson intercepted McBride’s deliver at the SLU blue line, then held off two checkers to beat St. Lawrence goalie Justin Pesony inside the left post.
“I couldn’t have wrote it any better,” Sampson said. “My parents are here. They come once a year, they hadn’t seen me score yet, so that was pretty exciting that I scored in front of them.”
Already aware by the second intermission of Harvard’s win over Clarkson to clinch the final first-round conference tourney bye, SLU coach Joe Marsh gave Pesony (23 saves) the rest of the night off. Glass greeted replacement John Hallas by converting a David Jones two-on-one feed 10 seconds into the third period. Johnson added an empty-netter with 1:14 to play.
“You’re always going to try to work hard – they’re competitors – but at the same time it’s a psychological disadvantage,” Marsh said of knowing the Harvard result. “But (the Big Green) are a good team. They had a tough start. My hat goes off to them. It’s a great credit to the team and their character.”
Eric Przepiorka’s assist on Johnson’s goal gave him his 100th career point, the 33rd player in Dartmouth history to reach the century mark.
Dartmouth opened the season with four straight league losses, then went 14-2-2 the rest of the way. The Big Green did itself no favors with a 2-5 non-league slate, essentially ending any hope of at-large NCAA consideration.
But they now have the ECACHL top seed, which will be very valuable in tourney play. They have a week off. And they haven’t forgotten that they still have other milestones to pass before the year comes to an end.
“This is awesome, just awesome,” Gaudet said. “It’s so hard to get a banner. To be able to put something up there where these guys can come back and appreciate years and years from now, I just think it’s great.”
Greg Fennell covers Dartmouth hockey for the Valley News of West Lebanon, N.H.