HANOVER, N.H. — The five seniors remaining on the Dartmouth men’s hockey team this year know they’ll be leaving the school as the winningest class in program history.
They want more, however, and know they’ll need it to break the Big Green’s 26-year NCAA tournament drought.
Dartmouth took the next step in that direction Saturday night with a taut 3-1 elimination of Yale before 4,232 at Thompson Arena. Despite outshooting the 11th-seeded Bulldogs (10-20-2) 47-21 on the night and 21-4 in the first period, the top-seeded Big Green (18-11-2) weren’t able to put the visitors away until senior Sean Offers’ goal at the 3:20 mark of the third period.
“I called it before the game; I said it was going to be a one-goal game, I thought,” Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet said. “Going into the third, we had a lead and the question was playing hard and playing smart each and every shift. It’s always a bounce away from a tie game and going into overtime.”
Yale had the misfortune of living up to its status as the nation’s second-most penalized team in the nation over the game’s first 20 minutes. Holding a 1-0 lead on a Brad Mills floater at 9:39, the Bulldogs drew four consecutive minors and were fortunate not to lose their grasp on the game.
With the extended five-on-three, Offers fed fellow senior Mike Ouellette for a back-door chip over the shoulder of Yale goalie Alec Richards (44 saves) at 13:25. Ryan Bellows put the Big Green ahead to stay four minutes later.
Meanwhile, Dartmouth hit two posts behind Richards, one by Offers and another by blueliner Ben Lovejoy.
“We took penalties all night,” Yale coach Tim Taylor said. “The first period was a Gong Show in terms of what we had to deal with.”
The Bulldogs did a better job of tending to their own end than they did in Friday’s 5-1 loss, and Richards was particularly solid in keeping Dartmouth at bay. Richards kept the game close by robbing Swallow on a mid-game breakaway, but Dartmouth netminder Mike Devine was his equal with three late stops, including a leg denial of Michael Karwoski on his own solo rush.
“We were playing desperate,” Yale senior forward Joe Zappala said. “That’s how the game ended up.”
Dartmouth finally gained some breathing space with Offers’ blast at 3:20 of the third. Eric Przepiorka won a draw to Richards’ right back to Offers at the right point, and Offers stepped into a drive — with senior Jarrett Sampson providing cover — that beat Richards at the left post.
The seniors — Offers, Sampson, Przepiorka, Ouellette and Garret Overlock — have now won 71 games in their Dartmouth careers. Offers, for one, wants more, beginning with Friday’s ECACHL semifinal at Albany’s Pepsi Arena .
“I’ve been the bridesmaid twice, and that’s not a very good feeling,” Offers said. “For myself and the four other seniors, this is our last kick of the can. … Whoever we end up facing in the semifinals, we’re going to give it our all so we can make it to that final game and stake a claim on that trophy.”
Greg Fennell covers Dartmouth hockey for the Valley News of West Lebanon, N.H.