HANOVER, N.H. — When it comes to Princeton hockey meeting Dartmouth this season, there’s a whole lot of nothing’ going on, from the Tigers’ perspective.
Freshman Jody O’Neill threw his second shutout of the year at No. 6 Princeton, recording 33 saves in a 2-0 Big Green blanking of the Tigers before a near-sellout crowd of 4,422 at Thompson Arena on Friday night. O’Neill also engineered a 41-save clean sheet at Hobey Baker Rink on Jan. 4 in a 4-0 win.
This time, all he needed was a first-period power-play goal from Scott Fleming, although Dartmouth captain Rob Pritchard added a measure of security with a long-distance empty-netter with 1:32 to play.
“I think it’s huge,” Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet said of O’Neills night. “He’s a very, very mentally sound guy to be able to bounce back. It wasn’t like he was bad last week. We didn’t help him a whole lot, but this week, he focused. He’s a great team player, and what he wants to do is find a way to give the team a chance to win.”
Fleming’s game-winning strike came at 18:26 of the first period. With Princeton’s Marc Hagel sitting out a slashing minor, Dartmouth (14-11-3 overall, 11-8-2 league) worked the puck low to Adam Estoclet, whose cross-ice pass found Fleming alone at the right dot. The sophomore held the puck until Tigers’ goaltender Zane Kalemba (22 saves) committed, then rammed a shot home.
Princeton (20-8-0, 14-7-0) pressured in the Dartmouth end, but rarely found room to put a dangerous bid on O’Neill. Coach Guy Gadowsky pegged the Thompson ice as part of the problem; the rink had to contend with unseasonably humid and warm air outside as well as a Dartmouth-Colgate ECAC women’s tournament game on Friday afternoon.
“It was a weird game because pucks were bouncing all over,” Gadowsky said. “No one could get the handle all night. The puck was skipping and sliding and jumping. It was tough work to get offensive chances.”
The Tigers did have opportunities, however, courtesy of six Dartmouth minor penalties. That led to nine man-up shots on goal, but O’Neill was the equal every time.
Pritchard iced the win with a 170-foot empty-netter from his own left-wing circle at 18:28 of the third. The victory leaves Dartmouth in control of the final first-round bye into next week’s league tournament; it’s the Big Green’s with a win over Quinnipiac on Saturday night.
“That’s exactly how you want to end a season,” Pritchard said. “We know that if we’re going to carry this season to the end, we’re going to have to win the ECAC playoffs. If we play well for 60 minutes (tonight), we get that bye, we move past the first stage and put ourselves one step closer to the goal we’ve had all season long.”
Princeton, which clinched its bye with a sweep of Brown and Yale last weekend, ends its regular season at Harvard tonight. The Tigers will be either the second or third seed when the conference tournament begins.
Greg Fennell covers Dartmouth hockey for the Valley News of West Lebanon, N.H.