The last team in the nation to suffer their first loss of the season, the Big Green put together another top-five finish in the ECAC Hockey standings in what proved to be the toughest conference in the country, producing both the national champion and the runner-up. Dartmouth proved to be one of the league’s top teams all year, advancing in the postseason for the third straight season and eventually reaching the league’s quarterfinal series with Union.
After falling behind to a talented Harvard team in a Game 1 loss in the opening round of the playoffs, the group banded together for consecutive wins the next two days to dispatch the Crimson in three. Victories of 4-1 and 6-3 in those outings shut the door on the Ivy League rival, while also announcing that this Dartmouth team could battle through adversity and come out a success.
Turn the page and the 2013-14 season carries with it a great deal of optimism for those wearing the Big Green sweater and the men who lead them.
Head Coach Bob Gaudet’s team usually has to wait until mid October to finally get on the ice all together and test itself against other competition. That is not the case this fall as the Green spent 10 days in Italy and Switzerland in late August and early September, playing against some talented professional teams on Olympic-sized ice.
The record was 1-2 on the three-game road trip and Dartmouth’s 21-man travel roster improved each time out despite the challenging travel schedules that led them to each outing.
Junior, and newly appointed captain, Tyler Sikura and sophomore Brad Schierhorn finished with two goals and two assists apiece for the team lead in scoring with four points on the trip. Both of Schierhorn’s goals came in the Big Green’s 4-1 win against Ritten Renon and former NHL goaltender Chris Mason. Junior Charlie Mosey also scored twice in that three-goal win, giving the team three multi-goal scorers on the trip.
The key for the coaching staff now is to build from the trip and the late-summer experience of playing games to their advantage. Ten days of team bonding, coupled with game experience in the late summer months, should pay dividends as the regular season commences.
Leading the way in the return of the forwards is Sikura and his 32 points from a season ago. The top goal scorer (12), assist man (20) and point producer (32) as a sophomore, Sikura was voted the team’s captain by his peers following his second campaign. A talented first-line center, Sikura has the skill not only to continue to lead his team on and off the ice, but also to do it on a nightly basis as he has yet to miss a game in two seasons, appearing in all 67 games since coming to Hanover.
Sikura will benefit from the emergence of Schierhorn on the wing as the Anchorage, Alaska, native should see some time on the top line this winter. On the other side will most likely be talented winger and junior Eric Neiley. Another versatile player, Neiley put up 17 points (8g/9a) as a sophomore last year and benefited from playing alongside Sikura for a majority of 2012-13.
Senior Eric Robinson is the only fourth-year player up front and looks to regain the scoring touch of early last season that made him one of the nation’s top players for the first two months of the year.
Junior Brandon McNally is back after missing the final month and a half of last season with an injury. His size and powerful shot will be a welcome addition to the top lines. Classmates Mosey and Jesse Beamish bring a grittiness with them that has served them well as constants on the Big Green’s strong third line. The two had a propensity for collaborating on big goals in 2012-13 as Beamish had late markers at home against Harvard and Princeton that would eventually help Dartmouth lockdown the No. 5 seed in the postseason tournament.
Sophomore Nick Bligh had four goals and five points as a freshman last year, but was one of the team’s best players in Europe and figures to play second-line center and a healthy dose of power-play minutes in his second season. Classmates Tim O’Brien and Brett Patterson bring speed, skill and a range of lineup options for the coaching staff who can put them in different spots while expecting similar production.
Jack Barre and Connor Dempsey round out the sophomore forwards. Barre added more size to an already daunting frame this offseason, while Dempsey’s quickness and good hands were on full display in the final game of the Italian trip.
Making their Dartmouth debuts in 2013-14 will be a trio of freshman forwards looking to crack the lineup on a nightly basis. Troy Crema, Grant Opperman and Kyle Nickerson carry pedigree over from their juniors teams and recent offseason endeavors. Crema led both Hamilton and Brampton of the OJHL in scoring in each of his two years in the league, Opperman was part of the Pittsburgh Penguins Development Camp in July and Nickerson was the captain of the Boston Jr. Bruins a year ago, bringing leadership qualities with him to the Upper Valley.
Perhaps the toughest spot to crack in the lineup this year will be in the Big Green’s defense corps. Six players from last year’s blueline return with seniors Taylor Boldt and Nick Lovejoy the elder statesmen of the bunch. Juniors Andy Simpson and Rick Pinkston have been paired together for the better part of two years and factor to stay together, while sophomores Geoff Ferguson and Ryan Bullock are also back in the Green and White.
Boldt and Ferguson formed the team’s second pairing last year, relied upon for steady defensive play in their own end and through the neutral zone. Pinkston and Simpson bring physical play, grit in the corners and along the boards and a touch more offensive presence than other pairings.
Lovejoy is back after missing the final month last season recovering from an injury, while Bullock will look to fit in with a new partner after playing a majority of last season with departed team captain Mike Keenan.
Coming into the fold are two talented players who will look to push the six veterans for ice time. Freshmen Josh Hartley and Brandon Kirk come to Dartmouth with hefty resumes to their credit. Hartley was tabbed as the North American Hockey League (NAHL) Defenseman of the Year in 2012-13, while Kirk is a 6-foot-1, 195-pound presence on the blueline who helped lead the Green Bay Gamblers to the USHL Championship a year ago.
If figuring out the top lines and six defensemen figure to be a challenge for head coach Bob Gaudet, picking his goaltender on a nightly basis will be even more difficult. Senior Cab Morris and sophomore Charles Grant split the duties pretty evenly last year.
Factor in returning sophomore James Kruger who picked up the lone win in Europe with a 33-save performance in northern Italy and Dartmouth might have a bonafide goalie controversy on their hands.
Morris played 19 games, posting an 8-7-3 record with one shutout to his credit and a 2.14 goals-against average to go along with his .915 save percentage. Grant was 7-7-2 with one shutout in 16 games in addition to his 2.77 GAA and .911 save%. Although Kruger appeared in just one game as a freshman, his work ethic in practice and off the ice, along with his strong game in Italy, should earn him more time between the pipes this season.
2013-14 Season Infographic: