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Special Teams Help Big Green Yet Again

  • Dartmouth’s Brandon McNally (18) sneaks in for a goal past Bentley goaltender Branden Komm early in the first period last night in Hanover. (Valley News — Ryan Dorgan)

    Dartmouth’s Brandon McNally (18) sneaks in for a goal past Bentley goaltender Branden Komm early in the first period last night in Hanover. (Valley News — Ryan Dorgan) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Dartmouth’s Matt Lindblad (9) drives around Bentley defenders toward the goal last night in Hanover. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

    Dartmouth’s Matt Lindblad (9) drives around Bentley defenders toward the goal last night in Hanover. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Dartmouth’s Brandon McNally (18) sneaks in for a goal past Bentley goaltender Branden Komm early in the first period last night in Hanover. (Valley News — Ryan Dorgan)
  • Dartmouth’s Matt Lindblad (9) drives around Bentley defenders toward the goal last night in Hanover. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

Hanover — Bentley University’s men’s hockey team skated onto the Thompson Arena ice last night dressed in black jerseys adorned with navy letters and numbers. When gathered around their goaltender before the opening faceoff, the Falcons resembled a large bruise.

The comparison was even more apt after the visitors absorbed a 5-2 pounding from host Dartmouth. The No. 11 Big Green, which trailed 2-1 midway through the game, eventually drove Bentley into the ditch with superior skating and skill. The Falcons surrendered two power-play goals while misfiring on each of their own six man-advantage chances.

Bentley had entered the night with the country’s top-ranked power play among NCAA Division I teams, but Dartmouth has now killed off 26 straight chances and 35 of the last 36, and is rolling along at a staggering 97.2 percent. The Big Green finished last season 52nd out of 58 Division I programs on the penalty kill, but has now been top-ranked for more than two weeks.

Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet said this season’s success while skating short a player was born during the final weeks of last season, when his injury-depleted squad looked for any and all ways to close a talent gap with its foes. Excellence on special teams was an obvious choice.

“We’ve got some different personnel and we made some adjustments, but it really comes down to playing hard,” said Gaudet, who has pushed Dartmouth to challenge opposing power plays in the defensive zone, not just contain them. “If you put people where their shot selection is limited and you gum up scoring areas, then it comes down to making a save and clearing a rebound.”

Forwards Matt Lindblad, Tyler Sikura, Tim O’Brien and Brent Patterson and defensemen Mike Keenan, Rick Pinkston and Nick Lovejoy are among the primary penalty killers, but Lindblad also scored twice last night and Keenan and Sikura each had two assists, as did Nick Bligh.

Dartmouth (6-2-2) opened the scoring in the seventh minute when Brad Schierhorn used his stick blade as a ramp to lift a Mike Keenan shot over the shoulder of Bentley goaltender Branden Komm, who made 32 saves. The Falcons (6-7) banged in a rebound for a 1-1 tie nine seconds before the first intermission and took a 2-1 lead after converting a breakaway seven minutes into the middle stanza.

The hosts forged a 2-2 tie five minutes later when Jack Barre’s shot from the right wing caromed off Komm’s blocker and Lindblad, chugging through the far circle, one-timed the carom back into the net.

“The trouble you have sometimes in a game like this is you try to hit a home run when all you need are base hits,” Gaudet said. “There was absolutely no chance the puck was going to go in when Barre shot it, but the goalie made a save and put (the puck) out there.

“That’s a base hit and now you drive the net and something else happens. It was a great play by Lindblad.”

The junior wing had another nifty effort two minutes into the third period, giving Dartmouth a 3-2 lead. Initially stationed in front of Komm, he slid towards one corner when a shot from the point bounced off a defender, then scooted around the back of the net, stuffing the puck inside the far post.

The Big Green seized full control of the contest when Dustin Walsh scored a power-play goal with 12 minutes remaining, banging in a Sikura saucer pass from below the goal line. Brandon McNally closed the scoring on another man advantage with a minute to go.

Twelve of Dartmouth’s 18 skaters last night were either freshmen or sophomores. College teams aren’t supposed to win with rosters that young, but the Big Green is bucking the trend with talent discovered off the beaten path by Dartmouth assistant coaches Dave Peters and John Rose.

“We can only get better if we keep working hard,” Lindblad said. “It’s really encouraging when you have this many young guys producing and playing well. There’s a bright future ahead.”

The immediate future includes a clash with visiting Vermont (3-7-3) on Wednesday. That contest will be nationally-televised by the NBC Sports Network, with Hockey Hall of Fame member Mike “Doc” Emrick handling the play-by-play.

Notes: Defenseman Rick Pinkston exited with nine minutes remaining and didn’t return. He appeared to suffer a skate-blade cut to one hand after dropping to his stomach to break up a rush. … Junior defenseman Taylor Boldt had his 76-game participation streak ended last night. He sat out for the first time in his college career with a lower leg injury suffered after blocking a shot during a recent practice. Also out injured was sophomore forward Eric Neiley, who missed his second consecutive game because of injury. … Big Green skaters Mark Goggin, Jason Bourgea, Alex Goodship and Billy Fitzgerald have been healthy, but haven’t played this season. The first three are seniors and Fitzgerald is a sophomore. Goggin is a former Boston Bruins draft pick who has appeared in only 35 college games, partially because of injuries, while Fitzgerald has yet to make his college debut. … Former Dartmouth defenseman Connor Goggin is a pro rookie with the ECHL’s Trenton (N.J.) Titans, for whom he had a goal and a minus-3 rating during his first eight games. Watching last night’s game in person was former Dartmouth goaltender Jody O’Neill, who was recently released by the Titans.

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