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N.Y. State of Mind: Dartmouth Dismisses Harvard; Quarterfinals at Union Are Next

  • Dartmouth goaltender Charles Grant (30) accepts a celebratory helmet bump from teammate Dustin Walsh (22) after the Big Green’s ECAC elimination of Harvard yesterday. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

    Dartmouth goaltender Charles Grant (30) accepts a celebratory helmet bump from teammate Dustin Walsh (22) after the Big Green’s ECAC elimination of Harvard yesterday. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Big Green forward Connor Dempsey (10) turns the corner around Harvard defenseman Dan Ford during Dartmouth’s 6-3 win. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

    Big Green forward Connor Dempsey (10) turns the corner around Harvard defenseman Dan Ford during Dartmouth’s 6-3 win. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Dartmouth goaltender Charles Grant (30) accepts a celebratory helmet bump from teammate Dustin Walsh (22) after the Big Green’s ECAC elimination of Harvard yesterday. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)
  • Big Green forward Connor Dempsey (10) turns the corner around Harvard defenseman Dan Ford during Dartmouth’s 6-3 win. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

Hanover — The Dartmouth College men’s hockey team rode significant contributions from its freshman class to a 6-3 victory over visiting Harvard yesterday, clinching the team’s best-of-three ECAC first-round series and sending the Big Green on to play another such series at Union College this weekend.

The No. 20 Dutchmen, a year removed from a national semifinal appearance, lost 3-2 in Hanover early this season, and the teams tied 2-2 during a rematch in Schenectady, N.Y.

Dartmouth, which finished fifth in the 12-team conference and narrowly missed a first-round bye, proved resilient all weekend. After losing the series opener by a goal Friday, the Big Green bounced back with a 4-1 triumph a night later, only to surrender yesterday’s first goal 32 seconds before the first intermission.

“There was no panic because we were playing well and just had a breakdown in the neutral zone,’’ said forward Eric Robinson, whose team is 15-12-5. “We felt like we had the momentum most of the game, even with that goal, so we had the feeling we would score eventually. To score quickly like that in the second period, though, that was huge.”

Dartmouth, which received 28 saves from freshman goaltender Charles Grant, rallied with three goals during the second period’s first eight minutes. Freshmen Brad Schierhorn and Tim O’Brien put Dartmouth into the lead, followed by strikes from junior Eric Robinson and freshman Nick Bligh that gave the hosts a 4-1 advantage four minutes into the final stanza.

Harvard (10-19-3) then sandwiched a pair of goals around one by Dartmouth’s Dustin Walsh, but Schierhorn scored into an empty net with two minutes remaining to send the Crimson packing.

“We’ve had a problem recovering immediately from a goal, and teams have been able to score back-to-back,” said Harvard coach Ted Donato, whose team’s last-place finish in the ECAC, the first such placement in program history, came a year after it lost to Union in the conference tournament title game.

Said his Dartmouth counterpart, Bob Gaudet: “We passed up on a few shots in that first period to make passes, and I thought we just needed to get simple and shoot pucks at the net.”

Along with overall enjoyment of the victory, the Big Green coach was particularly pleased with Grant’s play and that of freshman Brett Patterson, who was shifted from forward to defense hours before the series opener. Grant, a Nova Scotia native, was his junior league’s playoff most valuable player last season after his team lost game 7 of its postseason finals. The rookie has played 14 games and displayed a knack for positioning, rarely having to make a dramatic save.

“He’s a cool customer, and it doesn’t seem like a whole lot fazes him for a young guy,’’ said Gaudet, who gave No. 30 the start for game 2 after using junior Cab Morris the night before. “The puck sticks to him, especially those foot-off-the-ice shots, and he puts rebounds in some good areas for us to break the puck out.”

Said Robinson: “Even if Chuck’s not making unbelievable saves, his calming presence resonates with the rest of the team. He’s been that way all year, and we knew he’d be that way in the playoffs.”

Patterson played on the blue line growing up, skated there a bit during his high school years and was paired this weekend with standout Mike Keenan.

Still, the Minnesotan’s performance against Harvard was more than could have been expected.

“He’s a really smart player, and he looked like he fit in, which is pretty amazing,’’ Gaudet said. “He was very calm about it and didn’t get wound up. He just took the challenge.”

Although Dartmouth is only is 7-10-3 since beating No. 2 New Hampshire in late December and climbing as high as No. 8 in the national polls, the Big Green now has some momentum. Patterson said he thinks his squad can roll right on through Union and into the conference tournament semifinals in Atlantic City, N.J.

“We kind of plateaued after winter break, but we’re getting our game back and we’ve got a lot of trust between the guys,’’ he said. “We’re playing good defense, and it’s translating into a lot of goals.”

Notes: Senior Alex Goodship, a fourth-line player who typically earns playing time through hustle, defense and grit, had three assists yesterday. The wing had only 15 prior points in his college career and had never put up more than one in a game. … Schierhorn broke a 21-game scoreless streak with his goals. … Patterson’s defensive turn was necessitated when Nick Lovejoy was injured and Andy Simpson became ill. Gaudet said he doesn’t expect the former back this weekend, but he hopes to have the latter suited up against Union. … Dartmouth was 12-5-1 at home this year, its best mark in Thompson since going 12-5-2 during the 2006-07 season. … The Big Green is guaranteed its second winning season in the last six years. The other came during the winter of 2010-11.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com or 603-727-3227.