Friday, September 16, 2016

Know Your Enemy: Dartmouth

2016 has been a bizarre year for Dartmouth hockey. The Big Green were a goal and about 15 minutes away from a perfect record in January (a 1-0 loss to Vermont and a home loss to Quinnipiac in which Dartmouth held a 5-2 lead in the 3rd period being the only blemishes). Then they were kind of all over the place in February to sputter into a 7th place finish. Then the playoffs got even more weird - relying on two overtime wins to beat Colgate at home in three games in the first round (trailing in all three games), which gave the appearance of limping into unbeaten-in-16-of-18 Yale. Nope, the Big Green swept two close games to punch their ticket to Lake Placid. That's why they play the games, kids.

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 (20th season)
2015-16 Record: 18-16-1 (11-11-0 ECAC, 7th place)
Series: RPI leads, 46-37-5
First Game: January 17, 1908 (Albany, NY)
Last RPI win: November 8, 2014 (Troy, NY)
Last DC win: February 13, 2016 (Hanover, NH)

2016-17 games: January 14, 2017 (Troy, NY); February 10, 2017 (Hanover, NH)

Key players: F Troy Crema, sr.; D Josh Hartley, sr.; F Grant Opperman, sr.; F Carl Hesler, jr.; F Corey Kalk, jr.; F Kevin Neiley, jr.; D River Rymsha, jr.; D Tim Shoup, jr.; F John Ernsting, so.; F Alex Jasiek, so.; F Kevan Kilistoff, so.; D Connor Yau, so.; D Ben DiMaio, fr.; F Shane Sellar, fr.; F Daniel Warpecha, fr.

Key losses: F Jack Barre, G Charles Grant, F Brad Schierhorn, F Nick Bligh, F Brett Patterson, G James Kruger, D Geoff Ferguson, D Ryan Bullock, F Tim O'Brien

Previous KYE installments:
The Big Green were almost perfectly average last year on both offense and defense. Within the ECAC, they had a pretty solid offense (2.73 GPG) but a defense that could lag at times (3.14 GAA). That kind of made them the anti-RPI in some ways (the Engineers were 4th in the league in defense and 9th in offense, Dartmouth was the exact opposite). With two senior netminders and two defensemen graduating as part of what was a senior-laden team last season, that certainly calls the defensive element of Dartmouth's game into question for the coming season.

Dartmouth has long had a fairly... fluid situation in net. You have to go all the way back to Nick Boucher, who graduated in 2003, to find a Big Green netminder who spent four years as the clear starter. Since then, we've seen goaltenders have solid seasons as freshmen or sophomores, only to take a backup role down the line, and vice versa. It's been true with a number of goaltender tandems that were in the same class or close together classwise, and it was the case with Grant and Kruger as well.

In 2013, Grant split time with junior Cab Morris. In 2014, Grant was more or less the top guy - then in 2015, it was Kruger getting the lion's share, without any reported injury to Grant. Kruger's 1.98 GAA in 2015 wasn't enough to let him keep the starting job in 2016, however, as Grant returned to the top last year - which you might not be aware of if you're an RPI fan, as the Engineers never saw Grant after his sophomore year. In fact, Grant only played against RPI three times - on three consecutive nights, during Dartmouth's playoff upset in 2014. In 50 ECAC league games during his career, Grant played exactly zero against the Engineers.

Anyway, expect a three-man playing time battle between junior Devin Buffalo and freshmen Dean Shatzer and Adrian Clark. Buffalo looked great in picking up his first collegiate victory at RPI last season, but then he got rocked in his next two outings against Union and UNH and never saw the ice again. He's appeared in only five games for his Dartmouth career, so simply being the elder statesman doesn't really make the job his. The favorite might be the 6'3" Clark, who according to recruiting guru Chris Heisenberg is the only NCAA recruit coming from the almost universally ignored by colleges Maritime Hockey League this season, and he replaces another MHL alum in Kruger.

RPI and Dartmouth don't play until January, so expect them to have a pretty solid handle on their goaltending situation by then. Fortunately, the Big Green does at least have three upperclassmen on the blueline to help smooth the transition, especially with guys like Hartley and Shoup, who have done yeoman's work on defense during their Dartmouth careers without a great deal of fanfare.

On offense, the Big Green lose a number of solid contributors in guys like Barre, Patterson, Bligh, and Schierhorn. They do return some leaders in Hesler and Kalk, who both reached double digits in goals, along with Crema and Opperman who were also among the team lead in points. The rest of the attack had a good amount of balance to it last season - 14 players with 10 or more points, but only three (Barre, Hesler, and Patterson) reached 20. So there were a number of players who could ably contribute on offense, but many times they weren't doing it with frequency.

This is a team that will probably have some growing pains this season. It's hard not to when you graduate 10 seniors and then bring in 11 freshmen. If the Big Green can replace their senior goaltending tandem with a guy who'll display top-end ability, they'll be able to turn some heads. If not, it could be a real struggle this season in Hanover while the new arrivals mature in the college game. It's hard to put a finger on the Dartmouth-RPI series just yet since both squads will have plenty of time to develop their question marks before they meet in January, and the recent games between the two sides have been... odd to say the least (for instance, RPI led nearly the entire game in Hanover but were utterly dominated otherwise). But if we're going off recent trends, expect Dartmouth to get good production from someone unexpected - that seems to be the most consistent norm in this series lately.

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