With each new season, there is reason for optimism amongst the Dartmouth men's hockey coaches. An injection of new faces brings promise to a team that feels it's on the verge of taking the next step and elevating its game to an elite level.

The 2012-13 incarnation of the Big Green will look to build on what was a strong finish to last season as they continue their climb back to the top of the ECAC Hockey standings.

A young team comprised of 18 underclassmen and just five players from each of the junior and senior classes might have some outsiders looking at Dartmouth as more of a dark horse this season, but that is nothing new for head coach Bob Gaudet.

"Even though the team is young, we are extremely excited about who we have, those returning and those making their first appearances in Hanover," Gaudet said. "We've got players like Dustin Walsh (Shannonville, Ontario) coming back from injury that had him sidelined nearly all of last season, plus the return of Matt Lindblad (Winnetka, Ill.) who can be one of the top players in all of college hockey when he's healthy.

"Last year we saw a lot of those younger players like Eric Robinson (Foxborough, Mass.) have breakout seasons so we know that those freshmen and sophomores can have a big impact," Gaudet added.

FORWARDS
Returning: 11 - Jesse Beamish (So.), Jason Bourgea (Sr.), Mark Goggin (Sr.), Alex Goodship (Sr.), Matt Lindblad (Jr.), Brandon McNally (So.), Charlie Mosey (So.), Eric Neiley (So.), Eric Robinson (Jr.), Tyler Sikura (So.), Dustin Walsh (Sr.)
Newcomers: 5 - Jack Barre, Nick Bligh, Connor Dempsey, Tim O'Brien,
Brett Patterson, Brad Schierhorn,

If ever there was a place where youth made an immediate impression it was at the forward position in 2011-12. A young, but talented core of skilled wings and centers are back for the Big Green this season in addition to a talented group of five players ready to step right into the lineup and contribute on a nightly basis.

Robinson's breakout campaign as a sophomore was highlighted by a team-leading 12 goals, four times as many as he posted his freshman year. Now a sophomore, Brandon McNally (Saugus, Mass.) and his 10 goals against ECAC Hockey competition (good to lead the league) will no longer fly under the radar as his talents were on full display in the final two months of the season.

Gaudet is not exaggerating when he talks about the elite talent set possessed by both Walsh and Lindblad. Two of the most skilled players in the conference, healthy campaigns from both in 2012-13 should result in huge numbers on the stat sheets and more 'W's' on the schedule. Despite missing a number of games last season Lindblad still proved a valuable asset, leading the team with 18 assists. When not forced to the stands, Walsh could challenge for a league scoring crown and major year-end accolades, a fact he demonstrated last winter when he was on pace for a 40-point season before being injured.

Sophomore Tyler Sikura (Aurora, Ontario) tied for the team lead in points as a freshman, finishing the year with 25 on 11 goals and 14 assists. His skill set and clutch timing (leading the team in game-winning goals) should play an even larger role in 2012-13 as he continues to develop at the collegiate level.

A senior trio of Jason Bourgea (South Burlington, Vt.), Alex Goodship (Blackfalds, Alberta) and Mark Goggin (Glen Ellyn, Ill.) add not only a gritty style of play to the Dartmouth attack, but also a veteran presence and high levels of in-game awareness.

Charlie Mosey (Prior Lake, Minn.) and Eric Neiley (Warminster, Pa.) proved as freshmen last year that they could fill nearly every role in the Big Green's lineup and have made great strides in the offseason to get stronger. Working closely with head strength and conditioning coach Bob Miller in the weight room, Mosey and Neiley have taken the opportunity, like many of their teammates, to build on the personal successes of last season to get better.

The incoming players have great pedigree on paper, but it will be on the ice of Thompson Arena this preseason where they will have to prove to the coaching staff that they can crack an incredibly talented lineup.

Jack Barre (Fairfield, Conn.), Nick Bligh (Milton, Mass.), Connor Dempsey (Winthrop, Mass.), Tim O'Brien (Winnetka, Ill.), Brett Patterson (Eden Prairie, Minn.) and Brad Schierhorn (Anchorage, Alaska) make up that group of newcomers that bring with them a variety of juniors experience from across North America.

"There's great depth and really good skill level up front this season," Gaudet said. "Those guys that we have coming back all really had good seasons for us last year and then we add five rookies to the mix that we were very happy to have come to Hanover. The forward position is one that this staff feels will be a great strength for us as we get going."

DEFENSE
Returning: 6 - Taylor Boldt (Jr.), Billy Fitzgerald (So.), Mike Keenan (Sr.), Nick Lovejoy (Jr.), Rick Pinkston (So.), Andy Simpson (So.)
Newcomers: 2 - Ryan Bullock, Geoff Ferguson


Eight players will compete for six defensive spots on the line chart each week. If the adage of  'defense wins championships' holds true, then the depth of the Dartmouth blueline will be a major factor in 2012-13.

Senior and second-year captain Mike Keenan (South Weymouth, Mass.) will once again anchor the Big Green's back-end grouping. A solid defender in his own zone with good awareness and the ever-important aspect of physical play to his game, Keenan should match-up regularly against opponents' top forward lines.

The only senior defenseman, Keenan will need the help of juniors Taylor Boldt (Niwot, Colo.) and Nick Lovejoy (Orford, N.H.) on the blueline to bring a stabilizing veteran presence to the position. Boldt is a player that thrives on doing the little things in the defensive zone the right way. A smart, stay-at-home kind of player, Boldt has an incredibly high hockey IQ when it comes to how to play his own position.

Lovejoy returns to the Big Green after playing most of last season with the N.H. Junior Monarchs. One of the strongest players on the team, his work ethic away from the rink, coupled with a great deal of ice time earned last year in Hooksett should make Lovejoy a valuable commodity this season.

The sophomore duo of Rick Pinkston (Trenton, Mich.) and Andy Simpson (Chesterfield, Mo.) were one of the top rookie d-pairings in ECAC Hockey last winter. The two gelled in their first season in Hanover, playing a majority of the season together as they developed at this level alongside one another. Pinkston was a constant in the lineup as a first-year player before an arm injury in the postseason opener sidelined him for the Cornell series. Simpson came on strong midway through the winter and paired with Pinkston to form one of the league's most talented underclassmen duos in the final months.

Billy Fitzgerald (Milton, Mass.) is the third sophomore defenseman on the roster and will be in the mix for action after a freshman year in which he did not suit up for the Big Green.

Freshmen Ryan Bullock (Eden Prairie, Minn.) and Geoff Ferguson (Hanwell, New Brunswick) come to Dartmouth as highly-touted juniors players from the USHL. Both have solid shots and can contribute at both ends of the ice for their new team.

"Much like the forwards, the young defensemen came along pretty well last season," the head coach remarked. "Obviously when you lose some guys you're going to have to re-shuffle some pairings the following season, but we feel like we have a very good group of guys back there that should have no problem doing their jobs well on a nightly basis."

GOALIES
Returning: 1 - Cab Morris (Jr.)
Newcomers: 2 - Charles Grant, James Kruger


Perhaps the most important position in hockey, if not in all of sports, is the goaltender. Dartmouth will enter the season with just  seven games of collegiate experience in that position as Cab Morris (Wilmette, Ill.) is the lone returning netminder from a season ago.

Having played just one game as a freshman, Morris made a large contribution to the Big Green midway through last season, winning ECAC Hockey Goaltender of the Month honors for December along the way. Posting a 3-2-1 record in six starts, Morris demonstrated to the coaching staff and the league that he was ready to take the next step once decorated players Jody O'Neill and James Mello graduated.

Following in the mold set by Morris (6-4, 200 lbs.), the two freshmen goalies this season are big. Charles Grant (Berwick, Nova Scotia) and James Kruger (Minnetonka, Minn.) give the Big Green a big presence in the goal crease this season. Grant is a 190-pound, 6-foot-2 goalie, while Kruger comes to Dartmouth a healthy 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds.

Both very good goalies in juniors, Kruger and Grant should complement Morris well as the season progresses and the spotlight falls on the position nearing the stretch run.

"There are going to be people who look at our goaltending situation and have questions, but that's fine because we know what we have back there and are very excited about it," Gaudet commented. "Cab came on very strong last season when he was called upon to come in and play for our team. His development last winter was tremendous.

"Charles and James should come in and challenge right away for time which I think is a great testament to how well Associate Head Coach Dave Peters and Assistant Coach John Rose recruit. They both have great eyes for spotting talent and players that have tremendous upsides that others may not see and I think that our goalies this season will reflect that."

SCHEDULE
To be the best, you must make sure you play the best competition to hone your team's talent. Gaudet has made sure that Dartmouth will face off against the top teams in the nation this season, scheduling a grueling non-conference slate that should prepare the Big Green for when the rubber meets the road in the stretch run against ECAC Hockey competition.

A road game against defending national champion Boston College in November is a great test for a young team with loads of talent. However, an earlier meeting at Thompson Arena with Union means that the contest with the Eagles will be the second against a team that made the Frozen Four last spring.

New Hampshire, UMass and Bemidji State make up a solid 2012 Ledyard Classic the final weekend of December. Other non-conference home games against Vermont and Bentley should keep fans of the Green and White excited in the winter months.

The ECAC Hockey and Ivy League slate will feature a familiar set of foes this season as Brown, Yale, RPI, Union, Harvard, St. Lawrence, Clarkson, Cornell, Colgate, Quinnipiac and Princeton will make their way to Thompson this year. The 2012 Ivy League Shootout will kick off the regular season and be held in Providence at Brown's Meehan Auditorium in late October.