Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Know Your Enemy: Dartmouth

The heartache continued last year in Hanover, and it was another repetitive chapter in a book that seems like it will never get to the happily ever after. Dartmouth was, however, able to add another repetitive chapter in RPI's own book of woe by coming alive at the right time, late in the season, and laying the groundwork for what could finally be the breakout season, especially with a team that will be chock full of seniors that doesn't look altogether dissimilar from Quinnipiac a couple of years ago.

Dartmouth

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 (18th season)
2012-13 Record: 10-20-4 (7-13-2 ECAC, 10th place)
Series: RPI leads, 45-34-5
First Game: January 17, 1908 (Albany, NY)
Last RPI win: March 7, 2014 (Troy, NY)
Last DC win: March 9, 2014 (Troy, NY)

2014-15 games: November 8, 2014 (Troy, NY); January 30, 2015 (Hanover, NH)

Key players: F Jesse Beamish, sr.; F Brandon McNally, sr.; F Charlie Mosey, sr.; F Eric Neiley, sr.; D Rick Pinkston, sr.; F Eric Robinson, sr.; F Tyler Sikura, sr.; D Andy Simpson, sr.; F Nick Bligh, jr.; D Geoff Ferguson, jr.; G Charles Grant, jr.; F Tim O'Brien, jr.; F Brad Schierhorn, jr.; D Josh Hartley, so.; D Brandon Kirk, so.; F Grant Opperman, so.; F Carl Hesler, fr.; D River Rymsha, fr.

Key losses: D Taylor Boldt

Previous KYE installments:
There's always that one team that finishes in the bottom four of the conference that no one wants to face in the first round. This year, it was pretty obvious as the calendar wound down that the Big Green were going to be that team. An absolutely putrid campaign suddenly turned torrid in February, as a 3-15-3 team that lost its first eight games of the season (giving up five or more goals five times in those eight games) suddenly went on a run. In the home stretch of the ECAC year, Dartmouth went 5-2-1 with a vastly improved offensive and defensive outlook.

RPI drew the short straw at the end of the last day (thanks to the final result of the Harvard-Cornell game, when all was said and done), and Dartmouth found a way to advance to the ECAC Quarterfinals. Despite being outscored 10-9 in the three game set, the Big Green's gutsy one-goal victories in Games 2 and 3 with their backs against the wall (and with both game winners coming in the 3rd period) helped to turn what had been a trying season into one with some serious optimism at the end, not unlike RPI's 2008-09 campaign, of which Dartmouth had flipped the playoff script.

Now, with an experienced squad bearing eight seniors, the impetus is on Dartmouth to prove that the team that came out to play in February last season was the real McCoy, not the one that had positively limped through the schedule prior to that point. Much of the credit for that went to Grant, who became one of the hottest goaltenders in the nation down the stretch, but the Big Green offense also became a bit more potent during the final month of the regular season.

For the season as a whole, the Dartmouth defense was among the worst in the nation last year, but even if it doesn't operate at the high level it achieved late last year, don't expect that to be something that's going to repeat. The same really does go for the Big Green's low numbers on offense, on the power play, and on the penalty kill, as all were far better in the final weeks of the season. A rising tide lifts all ships, apparently. It also kind of highlights just how bad the team was before February.

The comparison to Quinnipiac, specifically, the 2012-13 Bobcats, comes in the high volume of seniors and juniors on this coming year's team, guys that have been through the campaigns in the past and are experienced enough to know the ins and outs of a college hockey season's grind. Like that team, there's not a lot that makes any one portion of Dartmouth's game outstanding, but when combined - and again, this hinges on the Big Green playing as they did at the end of the year - it makes for a formidable foe. The return of Robinson on offense from injury last season should be a boost, and solid seasons from McNally and Sikura along with top level play from Grant would make this a difficult team to do battle with.

If RPI has a benefit in the game in Troy, it's that Dartmouth's not going to have had enough game experience to have established whether they're playing like last February or last December by the time they get to town (they'll also have been coming off a game at Union, which doesn't figure to be easy). But as with any early ECAC game against an Ivy League opponent, they're also likely to be in better shape healthwise, as the Engineers will already be a month deep in their schedule. The game in Hanover should be a better indicator of the strengths of these teams, coming right at the start of crunch time.

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