If you're looking for a surprise team capable of making a run to an ECAC Hockey title, look no further than Dartmouth.
The Big Green were one of two teams, along with Union, to sweep a two-game set in the opening weekend of ECAC play.
It's a small sample size, but when you take a closer look, a breakout season for Dartmouth appears to be in the cards.
The Big Green received the ultimate offseason motivator last
March when they were ranked 16th in the NCAA Selection
Committee’s Pairwise Rankings. The top 16 can go to the
NCAAs, unless one of the six Division 1 conference champions is
seeded outside of the top 16.
One conference champion jumped Dartmouth, and the Big Green were left on the outside looking in.
What followed was the most intense offseason conditioning in coach Bob Gaudet's 15 seasons at the school. Fifteen seasons without an NCAA invitation inspired Gaudet to install a military-style boot camp called "The Program." An intense preseason provided bonding time for a team that includes 10 seniors and nine freshmen.
Now, a team that's strength was supposed to lay in high-scoring forwards Doug Jones, Matt Lindblad and Dustin Walsh, plus an experienced goalie in James Mello (Rehoboth, Mass.) appears to have the top freshman class in the ECAC.
Freshmen Brandon McNally (Saugus, Mass.) and Tyler Sikura flanked Walsh last week in victories over Quinnipiac and Princeton. Walsh tallied two goals and three assists en route to the first ECAC Player of the Week nod of his career.
"We knew we had a good team with a lot of new freshmen jumping into big roles," Walsh said. "Everyone looked great in the preseason. Those wins made us realize we can be the top team in the league if we keep playing like this."
The scary part for ECAC opponents is that Dartmouth only figures to improve by the second weekend of conference play. Last week, Lindblad and Jones were sidelined with injuries. They are expected back this week.
"I'm not sure we'd be where we are this season if we hadn't been so disappointed last season," Walsh said. "We were sitting in Atlantic City waiting for our name to be called, and it was a big disappointment after we played so well. We remember that feeling."
It's a feeling the Big Green appear destined to avoid this season.
Game of the Week
Yale at Union, Saturday
Somehow, less than two weeks into league play, defending ECAC tournament champion Yale (2-1-1) has much to prove against defending ECAC regular-season champion Union (5-1-3).
The Elis have scored just eight goals in four games, bringing into question their ability to find the net. They have actually allowed more goals (nine) than they've scored this season.
ECAC Hockey power ratings
1. Union (5-1-3, 2-0-0 ECAC): Union did what a great team is supposed to do by opening ECAC play with a sweep of St. Lawrence and Clarkson.
2. Dartmouth (3-1-0, 2-0-0): The Big Green have a tough test this weekend with home games against Colgate and Cornell.
3. Yale (2-1-1, 1-1-0): The Bulldogs even had cause for concern in their 2-0 victory over Colgate Nov. 5. They were outshot 39-22.
4. Quinnipiac (7-3-1, 1-1-1): The Bobcats appeared to hit a wall in a three-game week, blowing a third-period lead over Dartmouth and tying Harvard.
5. Colgate (5-3-1, 1-1-0): Eric Mihalik has been a bright spot in net for the Raiders.
6. Cornell (1-2-0, 1-1-0): A confusing opening weekend of ECAC for the BIg Red included a victory over Yale and a loss to Brown.
7. Clarkson (6-2-2, 1-1-0): A victory over RPI and a loss to Union during opening weekend of ECAC play didn't give us any clearer picture of Clarkson.
8. Brown (2-2-0, 1-1-0): Wins over Princeton and Cornell prove that Brown could be dangerous.
9. Princeton (1-3-1, 1-2-0): Tigers had nine power plays in a loss at Dartmouth due in part to Big Green continuously fans throwing tennis balls on the ice.
10. Harvard (0-1-1, 0-1-1): Harvard outshot Quinnipiac in the third period and overtime of a tie last weekend.
11. St. Lawrence (1-5, 1-1): Moves up one spot in our ranking after a 2-0 victory over RPI.
12. RPI (1-8-0, 0-2-0): Has been outscored 27-9 in nine games.
Dan Guttenplan can be reached at email@example.com.