Dartmouth gets veteran play out of a young roster

In what had been predicted to be a stop-and-start kind of campaign for Dartmouth, all lights appear to be Green entering the postseason.

“Our team is playing really, really hard, and I think this is going to be the healthiest we’ve been in a while,” coach Bob Gaudet said. “For a young, young team — probably not a younger team in the country — to be picked 10th in our league [by the media], to be picked seventh in our league [by the coaches] and to finish in fifth, barely out of a bye, I’m pleased with the way the team is playing.”

Pundits couldn’t be blamed for tabbing Dartmouth so low before the season began. Even now, if you saw only class year and games played, you probably would imagine the Big Green to be a big mess: Only four seniors have suited up for Gaudet this season, and they have summed just 67 games.

Fortunately, the kids came up big this year. Junior Eric Robinson and sophomore Tyler Sikura shared the team lead with 10 goals apiece; Sikura also chipped in 18 helpers to lead the team in scoring. Rookies have accounted for 14 of Dartmouth’s 80 goals to date, and sophomores 34. It’s a youth movement, for sure.

“There’s times I look on the ice and we have four freshmen and a sophomore,” Gaudet said. “I like this team a lot, and I have a lot of faith in this hockey team.”

The Green stumbled in their final weekend of the season, tying Princeton and falling to Quinnipiac in Hanover. The team had been 10-3 (7-2 in ECAC) at Thompson Arena entering Friday’s action, but the results cost the squad a shot at an always-desirable bye week.

“I thought we played a really good game against Princeton, and I thought they played really well,” Gaudet said. “Then we’re in a 2-1 game with Quinnipiac halfway through the third, they made a couple plays. They’re a really good team.”

The Green were outshot both nights, and though much credit is due to the Tigers and Bobcats, Gaudet is confident that his side can do better.

“Sometimes you’ll have the shot totals go your way and sometimes you won’t, and a big part of that is that some of your best defense is your offense,” Gaudet said. “We have to be a little bit more willing to shoot the puck ourselves. That creates a little bit of a frenzy in the offensive zone, which gives you zone time, which boosts your shot totals and keeps the opposition shot totals a little further down.”

Gaudet was mum on this weekend’s starting goalie, but is excited at the prospects of getting a number of players back in the lineup after missing time with injuries.

Senior Dustin Walsh is one of the recently healed, and Gaudet said the Green’s leading active goal-scorer was “feeling pretty good” last weekend. The coach has his fingers crossed for the return of freshman forward Tim O’Brien as well, though he did note that freshman Jack Barre and sophomore Brandon McNally are “out indefinitely.”

With Ivy archrival, travel partner, and spring chicken Harvard making the haul to Hanover this weekend, Gaudet and the Green are looking forward to another opportunity to prove the doubters wrong.

Evolution of the Tigers

When center Andrew Calof’s extra-attacker, overtime winner blew by Harvard’s Raphael Girard last Saturday, Calof became the first Princeton junior since 1991 to earn 100 points. That’s a long time.

The win also secured the Tigers a home-ice spot for the sixth time in seven years. That’s a long time, too.

The opponent — Cornell — is on the road in the first round for the first time since 1998-99. That’s a long time. And Cornell’s opponent in that series 14 years ago? Princeton.

There’s a lot of history here, and plenty more unmentioned. The Ivies love their illustrious pasts, and Princeton is no different. But the one piece of history the Tigers would love to revisit is the outcome of that first-round series in the late winter of 1999: Princeton beats Cornell 10-9 on aggregate.

What was an historic but half-empty Hobey Baker Rink not so long ago is now the third-toughest ticket in the country, by capacity. The Tigers are drawing 105 more fans per game than they have seats, packing the venue in support of the Garden State’s only D-I men’s hockey program. With attendance steadily climbing over the past half-decade, Baker is now a premier attraction in central Jersey.

“Anyone would tell you they’d rather play at home than on the road, so it means a lot,” coach Bob Prier said. “Baker Rink was [filled] beyond capacity all year, so it’s a nice home-ice advantage for us. It’s one of the largest advantages you can have in college hockey.”

The Tigers swept the Big Red for the first time in five years this season, and Prier likes the look of his squad going forward.

“We’ve played well in our last three games — we’ve come out of them 1-1-1 … and we’ve controlled most of the play here in our last three games,” Prier said. “We’re starting to play with a lot more confidence, controlling the puck a little bit more. We’ve got some good depth now so things are looking good for us.”

Last weekend’s gritty 2-2 tie at Dartmouth and 2-1 OT win at Harvard continued to set the postseason tone for Princeton, which has played six one-goal games (or ties) in its last seven outings.

“We’re fortunate that we played well this weekend on the road, and we’ll just have to continue playing that way,” Prier said. “We are in playoff mode, certainly. Last weekend, those were important games for us to try to attain home ice. We played playoff-type hockey, I believe the other teams played playoff-type hockey as well, so it was a nice test for us.

“They were low-scoring games, which is probably what we’re going to see throughout the playoffs. They were three really hard-fought points. Guys are certainly in the right mind-set. I think we have just as good a chance as anyone to go the distance.”

A big reason why the Tigers will sleep in familiar dens this weekend is the play of senior goalie Mike Condon. The keeper boasts a .925 save percentage and a 2.42 goals against average in 22 games this season, and is saving nearly 94 percent of shots faced since mid-November, 16 games ago.

“Mike’s certainly taken over that starting position. Throughout the second part of the season he’s played really, really well, so yes, he’s certainly our No. 1 goalie right now,” Prier said. “He’s playing as well as he has in [my two years here], right now.”

In fact, Condon has put up career bests in minutes, save percentage, goals against average and wins. If he could lead the Tigers to their first series win in four years, too? Now that’s the kind of history Princeton likes to see.

More to come

Be on the lookout for our comprehensive series predictions in the ECAC Blog on Friday morning, as Nate Owen and I gear up for our own prodigious postseason run.