March 7, 2012

ECAC Journal: O'Neill helps Dartmouth sweep St. Lawrence

By Dan Guttenplan

Dartmouth figured to be an easy choice to post a one-and-done performance in the ECAC Hockey tournament. 

Senior goalie Jody O'Neill led the Big Green to a surprising sweep of St. Lawrence in the opening round of the ECAC tournament. (Photo by Dave Silverman)

The Big Green entered an opening-round series at St. Lawrence last weekend with two wins in their previous 10 games, and the opposing Saints had not lost a home playoff series since 1996.

On top of that, Dartmouth had very little postseason experience. Five of its top six scorers are freshmen or sophomores.

So in typical ECAC Hockey fashion this season, ninth-seed Dartmouth turned common sense on its head and swept eighth-seed St. Lawrence on its home ice. Of course, the Big Green, who received more scoring production from their freshman class than any other ECAC team this season, were carried on the shoulders of a senior.

Goaltender Jody O'Neill posted consecutive 30-save performances, including 38 stops in the clincher, a 4-1 victory Saturday.

"It's been a year where our kids have battled through adversity," said Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet. "We had a lot of up and downs this season. We had key guys out of the lineup with injuries. I'm pleased with how resilient we've been."

The biggest injury to Dartmouth was that of senior forward Dustin Walsh, who was coming off a 20-point season and seemed destined to be one of the top forwards in the league this season. He had 10 points in his first eight games before missing the remainder of the season with a leg injury.

"Dustin was on pace for a 40-point season, so without a guy like that, we needed young guys to play like veterans," Gaudet said.

Freshmen like Tyler Sikura (10-13-23), Brandon McNally (10-8-18) and Eric Neiley (7-11-18) took on prominent roles this season. Still, senior Doug Jones (11-14-25) maintained his position as the senior leader.

"Everybody is a part of it now," Gaudet said. "There is no class structure at this time of year. No one cares who gets credit. That's the mentality."

Up next for the Big Green is a showdown in Ithaca, N.Y., with No. 2 seed Cornell. The Big Red will have had two weeks to recharge the batteries after a season-ending loss to RPI, which cost them their chance at an ECAC regular-season title.

"We've had to find ways to claw and stay competitive," Gaudet said. "This will be no different. Last weekend was great, and these ones coming up should be fabulous games. It's a great league with really good teams and rivalries. This series has a lot of tradition."

Games of the Week

Yale at Harvard, Friday, Saturday and Sunday (if necessary)

The fact that these longtime rivals are facing off in the ECAC Hockey tournament in the second round is no surprise, but few would have predicted early in the season that Harvard would be hosting the series.

The Crimson will remember the 7-1 loss the Elis subjected them to at Ingalls Rink Feb. 18. Harvard goaltender Steve Michalek got the hook in that one after allowing five goals in two periods.

ECAC Hockey power rankings

1. Union (20-7-7, 14-4-4): The Dutchmen will host 10th-seed RPI this weekend, and I can't imagine they're too thrilled with that draw. The Engineers are 9-6-3 in their last 18 games and have arguably played better hockey this semester than all other ECAC teams with the exception of Union and Cornell.

2. Cornell (15-7-7, 12-4-6): The second-seeded Big Red will host ninth-seed Dartmouth this weekend. Cornell swept the season series. The Big Red own a 76-43-3 lead in the all-time series and have won nine of the past 13 meetings, including the 2008 conference quarterfinal series in three games.

3. Harvard (10-8-11, 8-5-9): Expect to see sophomore Raphael Girard in net for the third-seeded Crimson as opposed to Michalek. Girard earned more time down the stretch after Michalek played in 12 overtime games during the regular season. Girard's 2.39 GAA is nearly a goal better than Michalek's 3.19.

4. RPI (12-22-3, 7-12-3): Do you realize the Engineers had an eight-game losing streak and a six-game losing streak before Jan. 6 this season? Now, if I had to pick one ECAC team to go to Union and upset the top-seeded Dutchmen, I'd pick 10th-seed RPI.

5. Yale (15-14-3, 10-10-2): Before we write Yale's 2011-12 obituary, let's note that the Elis have a record of 5-1-1 over their last seven games. This could be a team that lives to see another weekend.

6. Colgate (17-14-3, 11-10-1): For senior forward Austin Smith to win the Hobey Baker Award, I'm guessing he'll need to finish with 40 goals this season. It would be the first time a Division 1 played scored 40 since Dean Fedorchuk scored 42 for Alaska in 1993-94. The 40-goal feat would mean two things for Smith: 1. Colgate made it deep into the ECAC Hockey tournament. 2. Smith led the Raiders on that run.

7. Quinnipiac (19-12-6, 9-8-5): The fifth-seeded Bobcats will visit fourth-seed Colgate this weekend in what could be the upset (by seeding) of the quarterfinal round. Colgate is on a four-game slide, and Quinnipiac has tournament experience. The Bobcats have won a series in the ECAC tournament every year since they joined the league in 2005-06.

8. Dartmouth (13-14-4, 8-11-3): If you want to get nit-picky after Dartmouth's sweep of St. Lawrence, the Big Green were outshot 72-48 in the two games. They won fewer face-offs, 73-56. And they had 11 penalties in two games. They'll need to be even better against Cornell.

9. Clarkson (16-16-7, 9-9-4): The Golden Knights showed real fight in keeping their season alive Saturday night with a 4-3 triple-overtime victory over RPI Saturday night. It was the sixth-longest game in NCAA history at 113:48.

10. St. Lawrence (14-19-3, 10-11-1): Not a strong showing for the Saints, who were the lone team to get swept in the opening round of the ECAC tournament.

11. Princeton (9-16-7, 6-12-4): If you're looking for future Hobey Baker Award candidates, look no further than Princeton sophomore Andrew Calof, who finished with 14 goals and 12 assists for 26 points, good for fourth in the league. No other Princeton player ranked in the top 30 in the conference in scoring.

12. Brown (9-18-5, 5-13-4): The Bears did not win a game in February, otherwise, I may have moved them up to 11th.

Dan Guttenplan can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com.