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At Long Last, Big Green Wins

Late Goal Finally Sends Dartmouth Into Victory Column

  • Dartmouth College goaltender Charles Grant reaches to corral a loose puck in front of Harvard's Greg Gozzo during the teams' ECAC game Saturday at Thompson Arena. The Big Green won, 2-1, on Eric Neiley's late goal. Valley News - Tris Wykes

    Dartmouth College goaltender Charles Grant reaches to corral a loose puck in front of Harvard's Greg Gozzo during the teams' ECAC game Saturday at Thompson Arena. The Big Green won, 2-1, on Eric Neiley's late goal. Valley News - Tris Wykes Purchase photo reprints »

  • Dartmouth College forward Eric Neiley (11) attempts to split the Harvard defense Saturday during his team's 2-1 defeat of ECAC rival Harvard at Thompson Arena. Valley News - Tris Wykes<br/>

    Dartmouth College forward Eric Neiley (11) attempts to split the Harvard defense Saturday during his team's 2-1 defeat of ECAC rival Harvard at Thompson Arena. Valley News - Tris Wykes
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Dartmouth College goaltender Charles Grant reaches to corral a loose puck in front of Harvard's Greg Gozzo during the teams' ECAC game Saturday at Thompson Arena. The Big Green won, 2-1, on Eric Neiley's late goal. Valley News - Tris Wykes
  • Dartmouth College forward Eric Neiley (11) attempts to split the Harvard defense Saturday during his team's 2-1 defeat of ECAC rival Harvard at Thompson Arena. Valley News - Tris Wykes<br/>

Hanover — There is now only one winless team in NCAA Division I men’s hockey. Wonderfully and mercifully for Dartmouth College fans, the Big Green isn’t it.

No, it’s Alabama-Huntsville (0-14) that’s left with the booby prize, a result of Dartmouth’s 2-1 defeat of arch-rival Harvard on Saturday at Thompson Arena. Eric Neiley’s goal with 2:41 remaining lifted the hosts to their first victory of the season after an 0-8 start, bringing forth cheers from an announced and relieved crowd of 3,114.

“Our mentality this week was to work really, really hard in practice and battle like it was a game,” said Dartmouth wing Brandon McNally, who assisted on Neiley’s winner and whose team improved to 1-6 in ECAC play. “We came out flying today because we had nothing to lose. We wanted to prove something to a lot of people.”

The winning play began when Neiley, coming up the right side of the slot on a 2-on-1 break with McNally, ripped a shot wide of the near post and it caromed around to the far point, where trailing defenseman Ryan Bullock kept it in the zone. Neiley allowed his momentum to carry him to the left sideboards, where he received a Bullock pass and cut diagonally across the near circle.

Neiley zipped a pass across the slot to McNally, who skated a stride or two toward Harvard goaltender Raphael Girard before sending a return feed off his backhand. The pass found Neiley at the left post and the junior tapped it home.

“I had an empty net to shoot at,” said Neiley, Dartmouth’s leading scorer with six goals and two assists. “The puck came right to my stick, six inches off the goal line. I couldn’t have missed if I’d wanted to.”

The night didn’t begin in grand fashion for the Big Green, which surrendered the first goal 10 minutes into the second period. Harvard’s forecheck produced a quick pass from below the goal line and a one-time backhand shot under the crossbar by Jimmy Vesey.

Dartmouth answered four minutes later when Brad Schierhorn sent a pass from the right circle to the top of the crease, where freshman Grant Opperman fought off a defender to redirect the puck past Girard.

The Big Green held a 35-23 shot advantage, but Harvard coach Ted Donato wasn’t buying the implied advantage, accurately pointing out that many of Dartmouth’s attempts were from outside the slot.

“I don’t care what the shot chart said; I thought we carried play for the majority of the evening and we just didn’t finish our chances,” Donato said. “We were alone with the goalie a couple of times and he made some timely saves and we didn’t get to many rebounds.

“We had four or five chances to get the lead. I think our power play was the difference in a negative way for us.”

The Crimson (4-6-1, 2-5-1) was scoreless in six man-advantage chances, perhaps thanks to Dartmouth spending much of the week on in-zone play.

“We’ve been going over our defensive systems all week,” Neiley said. “We’ve been behind in games so we were getting kind of lackadaisical and taking too many chances to try and make something happen.

“Today, we were right in the game, so we didn’t have to do anything unnecessary. We just played it safe and with fundamentals.”

Old-time hockey, as it were. Perhaps a pregame locker room visit from former Dartmouth and U.S. Olympic star Ralph Warburton created some inspiration. The 1947 graduate and 89-year old helped lay the groundwork for the Big Green’s 1948 and 1949 NCAA title-game appearances and skated for his country along with eight others from Dartmouth in St. Mortiz, Switzerland.

Warburton, who huddled with Dartmouth captain Tyler Sikura during his locker-room stay, was honored on the ice during the second intermission.

“He hasn’t been back in Hanover in a long time,” Gaudet said. “He’s a hockey legend, and he’s a really sharp guy and I was so impressed with him. Our guys really enjoyed the visit, because they have a real appreciation for the history of this program.”

Happily for the Big Green, the losing streak is now in the past.

“You can see the guys have been training and practicing really hard and well and it was just a question of getting into a game and delivering the goods,” Gaudet said. “I felt really good about this game in advance. It sounds like coach-speak, but I felt like we had earned (a victory) during the week. The guys trained incredibly hard and were very focused and together.”

Said McNally: “We definitely didn’t play that badly during the eight games and we could have squeezed out a win, but it feels good to get the first one off your back. Hopefully we’ll keep rolling from here.”

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