Monday, August 9, 2010

Know Your Enemy: Dartmouth

We've got a feeling about the team we're profiling in Part 11 of "Know Your Enemy." No, they didn't have a great season last year. No, they aren't bringing in anyone who's being touted as a game-changing, blue chip, can't miss prospect. But still... there's something to be said about bringing back nearly your entire team, another year older and another year wiser, with solid senior leadership.

Nickname: Big Green
Location: Hanover, NH
Founded: 1769
Conference: ECAC (Ivy League)
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 1980
Last Frozen Four: 1980
Coach: Bob Gaudet (14th season)
2009-10 Record: 10-19-3 (7-12-3 ECAC, 10th place)
Series: RPI leads, 38-30-5
First Game: January 17, 1908 (Albany, NY)
Last RPI win: January 22, 2010 (Troy, NY)
Last DC win: February 13, 2010 (Hanover, NH)

2010-11 games: November 5, 2010 (Hanover, NH); January 22, 2011 (Troy, NY)
Key players: F Scott Fleming, sr.; F Adam Estoclet, sr.; F Matt Reber, sr.; F Doug Jones, jr.; F Dustin Walsh, so.; D Evan Stephens, sr.; D Joe Stejskal, sr.; G Jody O'Neill, jr.; G James Mello, jr.

Key losses: F Joe Gaudet; D Peter Boldt

Those two key losses happen to be the only regular players from last season leaving the program, representing 8 goals and 13 assists. Literally every other everyday player is back this season, and as you can tell by looking at the key players, if there's one thing Dartmouth is heavy with this season, it's experience.

Dartmouth hockey may not seem to have an exceptionally distinguished past viewed from our present position in time, if you go back far enough, they were the best of the best. The Big Green have a longevity one would expect to see from an Ivy League team - they have played in every single year since their first game in 1906 with the exception of 1919. Dartmouth had some outstanding years against mostly Ivy League competition in the 1930s, but the team got very dominant during the decreased competition years of World War II. Legendary coach Eddie Jeremiah helmed some exceptional teams in the late '30s, and he helped the Big Green put together a 21-2-0 record in 1942.

Jeremiah left the team in the middle of the war, but the Big Green didn't skip a beat in his absence, going 26-0-1 from 1943 to 1945, helping to establish Dartmouth as the first true juggernaut of college hockey. When Jeremiah returned in 1946, the exceptional play continued as Dartmouth dominated eastern hockey in the last few years before the establishment of the NCAA tournament. In 1948, for the very first Frozen Four, the Big Green were a no-brainer selection as one of the two eastern representatives after a 20-3-0 regular season. Dartmouth defeated hosts Colorado College to reach the first ever national championship game, but would fall 8-4 to Vic Heyliger and Michigan, though forward Joe Riley would be the first ever Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament.

The following season, Dartmouth made a repeat appearance in the tournament and again advanced to the national championship game, but were denied once again, this time by Boston College, 4-3, with goaltender Dick Desmond making the Big Green 2-for-2 in Tournament MOPs. 1949 would, however, be the end of the Dartmouth juggernaut. After dropping off a bit in 1950, the Big Green would have their first losing season since the mid-30s in 1951, and from there the program struggled through much of the 1950s. Jeremiah would stay with the team through 1967, when he would retire three months before he died of cancer. He had guided the team into the ECAC, and had won 3 Ivy League titles as the only team to deprive Harvard of the honor between 1954 and 1964, but the team would not regain the form he had them in through the '30s and '40s.

The Big Green couldn't crack 10 wins from 1966 to 1971, and the team largely treaded water through the 1970s, but in a flash of brilliance, the Big Green were injected back into the national discussion at the end of the decade. On the back of back-to-back Ivy League titles in 1979 and 1980, Dartmouth again qualified for back-to-back Frozen Fours, their third and fourth respectively, losing in the semifinals both times but winning the third-place game both years.

After that, Dartmouth entered into a two-decade slumber which saw them at the bottom of the ECAC standings on a regular basis. Immediately after their final Frozen Four appearance to date in 1980, the Big Green had a jaw dropping 20 consecutive losing seasons, including 12 seasons between 1983 and 1996 in which Dartmouth failed to reach 10 wins. During that 20 season stretch, they never won more than 11 games in a season, bottoming out in 1991 with a miserable 1-24-3 record.

Bob Gaudet, who'd been a member of the Dartmouth teams that had gone to the Frozen Four in 1979 and 1980, returned to Hanover as head coach in 1997 after a nine-year run at Brown. It took a few season to get the program turned back around, but by 2001 the team had turned in a winning record for the first time in 20 years. In 2003 and 2005, Gaudet guided the Big Green to 20-win seasons for the first time since 1948, and Dartmouth won the ECAC regular season title in 2006 (technically splitting with Colgate, though Dartmouth was the top seed). Throughout the last decade under Gaudet, the Big Green have turned in solid teams year in and year out, but they've never quite gotten over the hump to fully join the elite of the ECAC. They became regulars in Albany, but still have never won an ECAC championship in their history, nor have they returned to the NCAA tournament despite being close many times in the last decade.

After those 20 years of despair, Gaudet and his teams rattled off 7 winning seasons in a row before sliding back over the past three seasons. This year, with the experience that Dartmouth brings back, the Big Green could be right back in the thick of things again.

It starts with offense. There are few teams that are returning multiple proven scoring threats, but in Fleming and Estoclet, that's exactly what Dartmouth has. Classmate Reber rounds out what was one of the more dangerous lines in the league last season. In all, however, Dartmouth returns all of its top seven scorers from last season - five seniors and two juniors.

The catch for the Big Green will be on defense, where they struggled last season. Dartmouth was 10th in the ECAC on defense last year with a team GAA of 3.59, but they do have the potential to be better in this category. For starters, the experience factor could play a role. The Dartmouth defensive corps consisted of just one regularly playing senior last year - Boldt - and that number is three this year with Stephens, Stejskal, and Danny Markowitz, plus a pair of solid juniors in Connor Goggin and Jim Gaudet. The potential is there in net as well. In his freshman year, Jody O'Neill put up a 2.61 GAA and an impressive .927 save percentage on his way to becoming the ECAC Rookie of the Year. He fell into a sophomore slump last year, sliding to 3.80/.890, but James Mello showed potential of his own last season in splitting time with O'Neill at 2.97/.912.

Throw in a competent power play which clicked at a 20% rate last season and a perfectly average penalty kill despite the over-reaching defensive struggles (80.7%) , and the recipe is there in Hanover for a very solid team that could be contending for a first-round bye in 2010-11 - as long as the defense improves and/or the goaltenders return to their previously demonstrated potential.

The Engineers did not generally play well against Dartmouth last season, struggling to an uninspiring 2-1 come from behind win at home before serving up 2 points on a platter late in Hanover, blowing a 3-1 lead in the third period (and a 3-2 lead with 3 minutes to play) to lose 4-3 in regulation. To some extent, Dartmouth plays the type of slow-down, clog-up style of Cornell, but it isn't nearly as forward. If both teams are playing to potential, the two RPI-DC games do have the possibility to be intriguing matchups, and ones that could determine the shape of things at the top of the table.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.