Veterans leading the way as Dartmouth makes strides

If you were surprised by Dartmouth’s 13-2 romp through the North Country last weekend, raise your hands.

I ought to be smelling a lot of deodorant right now.

The Big Green improved to 3-2-1 overall, 3-1-0 on the road and 2-1-1 in ECAC play by scoring early and riding the momentum to make big saves and bury more goals.

“I was really pleased with the way the guys performed; actually, all six periods, I thought we played hard,” longtime Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet said.

The outburst likely caught Clarkson and St. Lawrence off guard, too, since Dartmouth had mustered only one goal at home the previous weekend against Rensselaer (4-1 loss) and Union (0-0 draw). One thing that did carry over from one weekend to the next, however, was the solid play of junior goaltender James Mello.

“I think we actually have three really solid goaltenders, and we’ve played all three of them,” Gaudet said. “James had played the last three games and has done a great job. He’s making key saves at key moments of the game, and getting really good support in front of him defensively. He’s done a real nice job for us.

“He’s very calm back there in the net; as I mentioned he’s made really key saves at really important times of the game. It’s been great. I think the goaltenders, they all push each other, and James is a veteran guy who’s done a great job for us.”

He certainly has. As of this moment, Mello leads the nation in goals-against average (0.65), save percentage (.980) and boasts a nearly perfect 2-0-1 record (not that you can fault a goalie for a 0-0 tie).

Mello’s leadership on the ice is looking more like the rule rather than the exception for this maturing team, as the Big Green look to put last year’s disappointments behind it and try to recover the spark it had two years ago.

“I think what we’re developing is a mentality where everybody has to do their job. Everybody has roles on the team, and the leadership is excellent from our captain, Scott Fleming, through Joe Stejskal and Evan Stephens and Adam Estoclet, the veteran guys on the team,” Gaudet said. “But we’ve also got a guy like Robbie Smith, who’s a fifth-year guy, as he was injured for a full season [in his third year]. He’s an older, veteran player, and he’s doing a nice job. Andrew Owsiak is doing a nice job. … We’ve got a group of juniors who I think are all doing excellent jobs of leading in their own way by going on the ice and playing hard. The younger guys are emulating that. In the locker room, we’ve got a group of guys that can lead — not all of them wear letters … but it’s being dispersed a little bit. There’s no selfishness on our team.”

One of the biggest boosts any coach could ask for comes from the underclassmen. If the sophomores match or improve upon their freshman campaigns and the rookies contribute as well, it’s a real good indicator for success.

“[Freshman Matt] Lindblad is doing a real nice job for us; [classmate] Taylor Boldt is doing an excellent job for us, and there are guys waiting in the wings,” Gaudet said. “Eric Robinson’s been banged up and will be back, maybe not next weekend, but maybe the following weekend, and he’s an outstanding player as a freshman. We’ve got a really good group; I’m very pleased by how they’re developing.”

Lindblad was especially impressive last weekend, earning my rookie of the week award with a goal and four points and holding a plus-3 rating to boot. The big Midwestern center leads the Green with six points in six games.

“He looks like a veteran player to me,” Gaudet said. “He reminds me a lot of Mike Ouellette, who was just an outstanding player here for four years … kind of one of those guys who’s a little unheralded because he’s so good on both sides of the puck. I think Lindblad’s like that; he’s in that same mold, where he just does everything well. He’s not going to be the guy that’s just going to go up ice and undress people like Lee Stempniak did, but he’s a kid that really does things well.

“He’ll kill penalties, he’ll play on the power play, and he’ll play a regular shift five-on-five as a freshman, and that’s great to have. He’s got the ability to score goals, to make plays … and also to defend. He’s very cerebral, he understands the game, he asks good questions, and he’s very attentive. He’s a very bright kid, hockey-wise and academically. I’m not surprised, completely, but I’m pleased at how quickly he’s developed and adjusted to the college game.”

Sophomore defenseman Mike Keenan also padded the stats in the North Country with a 2-2–4, plus-6 line after missing most of last season due to injury.

“It’s nice to have [Mike] back. He had a knee injury last year, that was early in the season, he only played a few games for us,” Gaudet said. “The kid was kind of devastated by that injury, but the next day it seemed like he was rehabbing. It was amazing; I’ve never seen a kid work so hard. He had a tough break … but he came back and he’s really a force to be reckoned with.

“He’s a heart-and-soul guy, he’s one of those guys I look at that represents our program. He’s an incredibly hard worker, and very tough in terms of the way he plays. Mentally tough. In games, he’ll block a shot, he’ll clear a puck on the penalty kill, but he’ll also play on the power play and make a goalmouth pass to set up a goal or have a nice shot from the point himself to score. He’s just as happy when somebody else scores as when he scores, and I love that kind of mentality. He’s a guy who will go out there and battle, and … do whatever it takes to help the hockey team.”

Gaudet didn’t hesitate one instant when assessing Keenan’s potential for wearing the “C” down the line.

“No question about it, absolutely no question about it,” he said. “I knew that last year in just the few games that he played. He’s a guy that leads by example. He’ll say the right thing when he has something to say in the locker room, but typically it’s better said on the ice or in the weight room. That’s a young guy that’s showing the younger guys that are coming into the program the right way to do things.”

So far, so good for the high-potential Big Green. It’s a long way to the top, but the foundation seems sturdy and solid.

“We’ve got a lot of experience,” said the coach, who isn’t exactly short on the stuff himself. “My hope is that we’ve got another gear, that we can go out and play hard each and every game, and focus on that process and let the other process take care of itself. This is a team that is very disciplined, very hard-working, and really cares about each other and about the college they play for. As a coach, they’re fun to be around; they’ve got a lot of jump. We’ll see what happens.”

Friday fallout

As reported Wednesday, Rensselaer coach Seth Appert has been suspended by ECAC Hockey for one game. That happens to be next Friday, Nov. 26’s match against Connecticut in the opening round of RPI’s annual holiday tournament.

Appert was deemed to have crossed a line in Friday’s postgame press conference, in which he replayed video on his laptop of the controversial no-goal call on what would have been an RPI equalizer with 7.6 seconds to go in Union’s ultimate 2-1 victory. You should check out my latest ECAC Hockey blog entry for more details, but suffice to say Appert didn’t believe he was committing a punishable offense in his actions.

My take on the matter is that he was absolutely toeing that line, but the comment that likely put him over the top was — when asked if he was concerned about the league disciplining him for showing the video — he said, “I think the refs should be concerned about it.”

Other than that, he was simply allowing the media to take a second look at the most critical (though by no means definitive) moment of a hotly contested rivalry game between two top-20 teams. The arena has not yet been equipped with instant-replay capability, and there is no video board. I hope I’m correct in discerning the cause for his suspension, because nothing else really makes much sense.


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