Dartmouth Turns Back in the Right Direction
After his team fell in the ECAC semifinals two seasons ago, Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet knew it would take time to get his team back to that level again.
It was easy to see why, as his roster largely turned over that offseason, a situation that he has experienced at various times throughout his long, Big Green coaching career. Many years ago, Gaudet inherited two large classes and two small classes. Meaning in a four-year cycle, he would have a large group of upperclassmen for two years, while in the other two seasons he would have a large group of underclassmen.
Last season, those issues bubbled to the forefront, as the Big Green finished 10-18-3 and never really found a groove.
"It has been a tough dynamic because it has almost become a foregone (conclusion) that this happens," Gaudet said. "Last year's group of freshmen were absolutely fabulous. They were a bit under the radar because our record wasn't that good.
"Now that those guys are sophomores and have played, they are showing the young guys the right way. It is a cycle that we kind of have to live with. You gain experience by sometimes going through adversity and playing the right way. That is what we are trying to do and we are playing good, solid hockey against good teams, (right now)."
Dartmouth has been very good at times under Gaudet — sending numerous players to the NHL and agonizingly close, in fact, to an ECAC title and/or NCAA berth multiple times. But it's never happened. And then those lull periods come back. Up to now, Dartmouth has always recovered again, eventually.
Fast forward to this season — its early season play was again underwhelming. A 9-2 loss at Princeton was rock bottom, but it recovered to pick up a tie at Quinnipiac the next night.
"You can look at that (Princeton) game and what I look at is the response we had the next night," Gaudet said. "It was just one of those games that they were really good and nothing we did worked. The next night, we had a gritty, gutty performance. Although, we came out with one point that weekend, it turned out positive given the circumstances of that Princeton game."
A week later, another humbling loss to Bentley (5-1) provided even more soul searching to find an identity.
"We definitely look at those as turning points for us," sophomore Shane Sellar said. "They are results we look at and say we don't want them to happen again. They were learning points for us, as it taught us come out each night, play a full 60 minutes, come out hard to start the game and not let off the gas pedal."
It found that identity and went out to Denver, where it was expected to lose heavily both nights. On Friday, the Big Green dropped a 1-0 affair and looked the part of a team that could hang with some of the best in the country.
"The Denver series was a key one for us," said Gaudet. "Hard work is something we preach and sooner or later you will get rewarded for it. The process we are trying to do, if we stay with it, we will give ourselves a chance. We have developed a bit of an identity in recent weeks and are playing good hockey,"
The next night, The Big Green fell behind 3-0, only to score five unanswered goals to pull the upset of the Pioneers.
"Confidence is huge," Sellar said. "Coming out of that 1-0 loss I think we really knew what we were made of, then. We knew we could stick with one of the best teams in the country. To pick up the win, the next night, was huge going into the break."
Whether or not Dartmouth would continue the momentum would depend on a young corps of forwards that would need to continue to build. They have stepped to the forefront and have been key to the revival. The Big Green got three goals from freshmen against New Hampshire and it beat its in-state rival, 3-1, in the opening game of its Ledyard Classic.
The next night, sophomore Charley Michalowski scored 24 seconds into its game against Minnesota-Duluth, but the Bulldogs scored two in a row to take the lead. Dartmouth responded with a goal from Sellar, who has three goals in three games, three minutes later and got the tie to increase its unbeaten streak to three games.
"We are starting to play well as a team and grow chemistry," Sellar said.
During the three-game unbeaten streak, all 10 goals have come from underclassmen. Six have come from sophomores, while the other four have come from freshmen.
"We are growing, there is no doubt about that," Gaudet said. "Our younger players are starting to play like veteran players and our older players are doing a really good job bringing those guys along."
Sometimes confidence is all it takes to get a team going.
Right now, Dartmouth seems on a similar path to its 2014-15 and 2015-16. In those years, the Big Green struggled out of the gate only to finish with 17 and 18 wins respectively. Whether or not that happens will be reliant on the youngsters and whether it can continue to build.