March 16, 2007 PRINT Bookmark and Share

The Unfinished Symphony

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

ALBANY, N.Y. — You could see it in his watery eyes. Welling with ... pride.

Bob Gaudet is one of the nicest people in hockey. He is also an intense coach, and, as an alum for a program that last won a championship when he was the team's goaltender, 27 years ago, someone with immense pride in his institution.

So when the Big Green, after fighting back from deficits all night, saw Clarkson score the game winner just 61 seconds after Dartmouth had tied it, the reaction from Gaudet was more exasperation than anger. This is a program he has led back from the dead — but a title would have to wait at least another year.

Gaudet took Brown, of all teams, to the NCAAs, then returned to his alma mater in 1997 when it was at a low point. He not only restored pride, but legitimately helped make Dartmouth a program that could compete with anyone. He's been a maestro, deftly bringing together extra parts at a small school — with the help of assistants Dave Peters and Brendan Whittet, a fiery player in the Gaudet mold for him at Brown — and created a symphony.

But now, after getting to the ECAC's final weekend for the fifth time in his tenure, it will once again go home empty handed. Five trips in eight years — coming with great players like Lee Stempniak, Hugh Jessiman, Grant Lewis and David Jones — and not one time has Dartmouth made the final.

"We're as good as anybody. We really are," Gaudet said. "We represent ourselves, we represent our league — we're as good as anybody. You know, we didn't lose to a slouch. It's just one unfortunate bounce we didn't earn."

The frustration you could sense from Gaudet afterward was not one of hubris, but of genuine feeling for his players and school.

"It was a great game and they played well, with a lot of heart and a lot of desire. But it's just a bounce of the damn puck," Gaudet said. "It's the darndest thing. ... The emotions were up and down. We're down 3-1 going into the third. You know how hockey is. It's 3-1 going into the third, and sometimes it seems insurmountable. But our guys from the drop of the puck played really hard and got after it and made some good plays — and we find a way with a minute left and snipe one upstairs. ..."

He trails off and allows a sigh, then remembers the play where David Jones nearly set up the game winner himself, only to see Clarkson go the other way.

"And it wasn't like it was a 2-on-1 with a backcheck, but it was almost created from the offensive side," Gaudet said. "We go around the bend and have one sitting there ... it's just one of those things. It's just disappointing and frustrating, I'll be honest with you — but I don't know what to say — the guys played their butts off."

And now Dartmouth will lace 'em up again Saturday, against St. Lawrence, with an actual chance to make the NCAAs. But you get the feeling the team would come out and play hard regardless.

"It's pride," Gaudet said. "We play hockey. It's a great group of kids who play hard. That's the way it goes. You take the good with the bad. We left a lot on the ice, no question about it. We were going to air it out and find a way. ... The guys have been through a lot together and they want to get after it tomorrow. It's not easy, but that's the way it is."

"We get to put the jersey on again tomorrow," senior Tanner Glass said. "We're proud of our school, we're proud of our team and tomorrow's another day."

Still, if the crazy machinations of the Pairwise go the Big Green's way Saturday, it could make the NCAAs for the first time since 1980. A sweet justice after being so close in so many recent years.

"You get so damn close. I'm hoping," Gaudet said. "And maybe it happens, or maybe it doesn't. But I'm hoping we find a way tomorrow, and maybe the bounce we get, goes our way and we get in the NCAA."

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