March madness, baby! And unless J.J. Redick learns how to skate, Duke won’t even be there. The ECACHL playoffs are coming to a rink near you.
After an unprecedented rise from worst to first, the Dartmouth men’s hockey team (16-11-2, 14-6-2 Ivy) will look to legitimize the school’s first-ever ECACHL regular-season title and grab a coveted NCAA tournament bid.
While the Big Green will certainly be among those in the at-large pool, Dartmouth wants to keep the decision-making out of the hands of committeemen and punch their ticket with the automatic bid that comes with an ECACHL championship.
But before the Big Green can purchase dancing shoes, it must contend with the same pesky problem it faced last season: Yale.
A team that seems to falls asleep for 30 regular-season games, Yale nearly slid through the first round last year as the 12-seed and upset Clarkson. This year, the Bulldogs face Dartmouth after defeating the Union Dutchmen in the longest NCAA men’s hockey game in the history of the sport.
The five-overtime epic ended in the 142nd minute of play when Yale freshman forward David Meckler tipped a shot past Union goaltender Kris Mayotte for the 3-2 victory. The goal clinched the game and series for the Bulldogs. The previous night, Yale had taken game one, which had only made it to the first overtime, 2-1.
Dartmouth would be remiss to think the same Yale squad against which it tallied a combined 15 goals during the teams’ two regular-season meetings will show up at Thompson Arena this Friday night for game one of the ECACHL quarterfinals. The Big Green, which comes into the league tournament with the number one seed and a first-round bye, must not look past its 10-18-3 opponent.
“The benefit of having the bye weekend has ensured that we are well rested and that we have had plenty of time to prepare for the upcoming games,” said team captain and newly anointed Ivy League Player of the Year Mike Ouellete ’06. “We know that Yale is a good team though, and can’t take them lightly. They have a powerful offense and lately have had better goaltending than usual. We will have to have the mind-set of playoff hockey, which basically means we’re going to have to be ready to battle for every inch of ice out there.”
Dartmouth struggled early against Yale in the second game played between the two this season, and fell behind the Bulldogs 3-0 after one period of play. Such a lethargic start will not be tolerated on Friday.
“We can’t afford to take any time getting adjusted to their team,” said Big Green goalie Mike Devine ’08. “We’ve played them twice this year and know what they’re all about.”
The most significant reward of a top-four seed is having home ice in the quarterfinal round. Dartmouth, which finished 2004-05 in fifth place, failed to earn such a luxury last season and lost at fourth-seeded Vermont in three games.
“Home ice will be a huge advantage for us,” said Ouellette.
With Dartmouth’s fans out in full force once again to support their heroes, the Big Green men will look to make the advantage insurmountable.
While playing in Hanover, N.H., will only be one aspect of a potential winning combination, Dartmouth icers understand that their performance on the ice will truly shape their fate.
“We will have to use our size, strength and speed to wear them out all weekend long,” said Ouellette. “Last year’s series is the perfect example of how back and forth things can go. We have to be ready for anything, but I think that our past experiences will ensure that we are. We’re playing for our lives now.”
Ouellete continued, harking on what he saw as one of the foremost contributing factors to Dartmouth’s extraordinary climb up the ECACHL standings, from a 0-4 start to regular-season champions.
“I think that we have an entire team of leaders, and I know that everybody is on the same page right now,” said the senior. “No one person is going to make a difference. It’s going to take a full team effort, and that’s exactly what our strength is.”
A full team effort, indeed, may determine whether this group of 24 young men is remembered simply for securing the College’s first ECACHL regular-season title or if they can achieve Dartmouth immortality and continue their meteoric rise all the way through the NCAA tournament. The madness starts Friday at 7 p.m