January 22, 2011 PRINT Bookmark and Share

NCAA Spot on the Line as Dartmouth Downs Union

CHN Staff Report

Since Union joined Division I in 1991, it has never made the NCAA Tournament. Dartmouth hasn't made it since its coach, Bob Gaudet, was its goalie — 1980.

This year, both have legitimate opportunities — which is why every game has a heightened importance when your margin for error is slim, especially when they play each other.

Unfortunately for Union, it was more interested in reading about those possibilities while Dartmouth actually went out and did something about it. The Dutchmen fell behind 3-0 early and never recovered in a 4-1 loss, their first loss at Messa Rink this season.

"We were really undisciplined tonight. Personally, I think it's the hex of articles," said Union coach Nate Leaman. "As soon as good things get written about you, you start believing that stuff and stop doing the little things well. Mello was outstanding."

Union tried to rally, putting 32 shots on Dartmouth goalie James Mello over the last two periods, and 40 overall. But Mello was outstanding, as he's been most of the year.

"We had two breakaways and a number of point-blankers. He didn't let us back in the game," Leaman said. "He was very good because when we break down the tape, I think we're going to see all the great opportunities we had. But we dug ourselves a hole and that's losing hockey."

"I think to take two penalties off the bat didn't help," Union defenseman Brock Matheson said. "And our kill wasn't able to stop them gave them two quick goals and that's a lot of momentum to give them. And that kind of carried over to their third goal [midway through the first."

Meanwhile, it's Dartmouth — after an up-and-down start to the new year, that's including close losses, bad losses, and some good wins (New Hampshire) — that is in position for an NCAA bid, now tied for 8th in the Pairwise. After all the years with star-studded teams, with Dartmouth coming short of the NCAAs, could this be the year? There was a feeling that Dartmouth would continue its improvement from last year and be back in the mix, but it's been more than that.

Gaudet believes a close loss to Yale was a big part of helping the Big Green then upset New Hampshire, and may have uncovered the key to having a chance against Yale.

"I think what happens is that as the season unfolds, you find they are a very similar team to UNH where if you don't take care of the puck, especially in the neutral zone," Gaudet said. "Like if you have a rush and you try something fancy at the blue line when you don't have speed and you don't have numbers, it comes back at you so quickly. And that's where they generate a lot of their offense is in transition."

Dartmouth employed a neutral-zone trap against Union.

"We knew they were quite skilled and we wanted to gum it up in the neutral zone, maybe force a chip or a dump and maybe get a clear and kill 15-20 seconds off and keep them on the outside," Gaudet said. "If they head to the zone, maybe keep it on the yellow, on the kickplate so we can gum it up a little further and not let them set up. We knew (Jeremy) Welsh has a bomb from the right side with the left-handed shot and we gave him a couple but we didn't give him that many because he can score even without a screen.

"So I just thought the key was to not give them those turnovers. You know it's almost like football in that if you give up the ball in the middle of the field, all of a sudden it's in the red zone. So if we were going to give it up, we wanted to give it up deep in their zone and make them come 200 feet. You realize how skilled they are in transition and you just want to stay away from it."

Everyone thought Union would be that second team to Yale, but the Dutchmen have stumbled a little lately — and with a slim margin for error, that hasn't helped. The two losses at Western Michigan really hurt Union, which is now 14th in the Pairwise.

"You see your guys making the same mistakes over and over and over again, and you're talking to them," Leaman said. "We saw our guys make the same mistakes over and over, especially with the turnovers in the neutral zone. You're not going to win."

Jason Klump contributed to this report.

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