ALBANY, N.Y. — For the winningest class in Dartmouth history, this 3-2 win in the third-place game of the ECACHL tournament had special meaning.
Having already left an indelible mark on Dartmouth hockey history, compiling a 73-49-14 record over four years, the five Big Green seniors (Sean Offers, Mike Ouellette, Garret Overlock, Eric Przepiorka and Jarrett Sampson) wanted to rid the taste of a bitter 10-1 semifinal loss to Harvard the night before with one final victory.
Using a strong first period, Dartmouth did just that, bringing smiles and tears to the eyes of team captain Ouellette and head coach Bob Gaudet.
“It’s been a long journey,” said Ouellette, who set a Dartmouth team record by playing in his 136th career game. “I can’t thank coach Gaudet enough for bringing me here and giving me the chance to succeed. It’s been a great step in my life, and I’m sad to see it pass.”
“Yesterday was a tough pill to swallow, but we knew we were going to come back with a lot of pride and a lot of character,” said Gaudet.
Dartmouth came out on a mission, dominating the first period and taking a 2-0 lead. The Big Green scored at 3:39 of the first period by capitalizing on a scrambling Raiders defense. Jon Grecu stole a Colgate exit pass and fired a shot on goaltender Mark Dekanich. Rob Pritchard located the rebound and slid it under the recovering Raider netminder, making the score 1-0.
Dartmouth went up, 2-0, midway through the period. Tanner Glass redirected a long slap shot from Sean Offers through Dekanich’s legs for a power-play goal. Through one period of action, the Big Green outshot Colgate, 23-8.
Despite allowing three goals, Dekanich looked strong on the night and set a school record for saves in a single season (988).
“He proved why he was voted as the Ken Dryden Award Winner,” said Colgate head coach Don Vaughan. “We’re young on the back end (four freshmen defensemen), so he’s come up big making big saves, not just from the perimeter but from in tight.”
One needed look no farther than a missed opportunity midway through the second period to see that the stars were not aligned early for the Raiders. While killing a penalty, Colgate’s Jon Smyth intercepted a pass from behind the net from Dartmouth goaltender Mike Devine, setting up a wide-open wraparound attempt. The captain stumbled and lost control of the puck, however, keeping the deficit at two.
“They looked like that had more to prove in the first period after what happened last night,” said the Raiders captain, a member of the second most-winningest class in team history (84-42-18). “They wanted to come out and make a statement and we had a little bit of trouble getting going.”
Jones tallied a highlight-reel goal at 9:51 of the second. The sophomore received a neat drop pass from Ouellette, cut across the goalmouth untouched and slid the puck past a helpless Dekanich, giving Dartmouth a 3-0 lead.
The Raiders got one back two minutes later thanks to hard work in front of the Big Green net. Mike Devine fended off a Nick St. Pierre long wrist shot from the top of the left circle, but let the rebound fall to the ice. As Colgate continued to hack at the puck, referee John Murphy refused to blow the whistle, allowing Kyle Wilson to nudge the puck across the line for his 24th goal of the season.
Colgate sliced the lead in half with 4:20 remaining in the game with another rebound goal. This time Fulton powered a backhand attempt home off of Ryan Smyth’s initial shot, bringing the Raiders within a goal at 3-2. Ryan Smith also set a record for longevity for Colgate, playing in his school-record 156th career contest.
The Raiders nearly tied the game with two minutes remaining on a three-on-two rush. The trailer, Jon Smyth, had an open look from the slot but fired a hard wrist shot wide of the left post. Referee Murphy then awarded Colgate a power play with 98 seconds remaining after Burton was held through the neutral zone by Eric Przepiorka.
Goaltender Devine secured his team’s 20th win, however, coming up with a huge glove save on a nasty Wilson wrist shot from the high slot. Colgate, which had controlled play for much of the latter half of the contest, fell short in its comeback attempt.
The victory came as a fitting tribute to Gaudet who watched his seniors bring the pride in Dartmouth hockey back to Hannover, N.H.
“We took over a program a number of years ago that had been down,” said Gaudet. “These guys have been such an important part of bringing it back. The energy and the fan base are back, and I think it’s getting better and better.”