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Dartmouth Hockey Declaws UNH Wildcats, 4-1 

  • Dartmouth’s Dustin Walsh (22) celebrates after a goal by Tyler Sikura (16) during the second period of last night’s 4-1 Ledyard Bank Classic win over No. 2 New Hampshire at Thompson Arena. The Big Green meets Massachusetts in tonight’s tournament championship game. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

    Dartmouth’s Dustin Walsh (22) celebrates after a goal by Tyler Sikura (16) during the second period of last night’s 4-1 Ledyard Bank Classic win over No. 2 New Hampshire at Thompson Arena. The Big Green meets Massachusetts in tonight’s tournament championship game. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Dartmouth’s Andy Simpson — who assisted on Tyler Sikura’s second-period goal — winds up for a shot from the blue line. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

    Dartmouth’s Andy Simpson — who assisted on Tyler Sikura’s second-period goal — winds up for a shot from the blue line. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Mike Keenan, left, and Brett Patterson celebrate with Ryan Bullock, center, after assisting him on Dartmouth’s second goal against second-ranked New Hampshire during the 10th-ranked Big Green’s win last night. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

    Mike Keenan, left, and Brett Patterson celebrate with Ryan Bullock, center, after assisting him on Dartmouth’s second goal against second-ranked New Hampshire during the 10th-ranked Big Green’s win last night. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Dartmouth’s Dustin Walsh (22) celebrates after a goal by Tyler Sikura (16) during the second period of last night’s 4-1 Ledyard Bank Classic win over No. 2 New Hampshire at Thompson Arena. The Big Green meets Massachusetts in tonight’s tournament championship game. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)
  • Dartmouth’s Andy Simpson — who assisted on Tyler Sikura’s second-period goal — winds up for a shot from the blue line. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)
  • Mike Keenan, left, and Brett Patterson celebrate with Ryan Bullock, center, after assisting him on Dartmouth’s second goal against second-ranked New Hampshire during the 10th-ranked Big Green’s win last night. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

Hanover — More than half of the National Hockey League’s 30 teams sent scouts to last night’s Dartmouth-New Hampshire men’s hockey clash. What they and an announced Thompson Arena crowd of 4,500 saw was a decisive, nonconference victory by the Big Green, a 4-1 triumph over the country’s second-ranked team on the first night of the Ledyard Bank Classic.

The celebration wasn’t fully on until Brandon McNally faked out a defender and slid a backhand shot into an empty Wildcats net with a minute remaining, but No. 10 Dartmouth let the visitors know from the opening faceoff that they were in for an all-out battle. The Big Green roared up ice repeatedly, flying through the neutral zone and crashing the net.

“Starts are important to set the tone in a game, and our guys were ready,” said Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet, whose team faces the University of Massachusetts — a 4-3 winner over Bemidji State last night — in tonight’s 7 p.m. tournament title game. “Really good opponents bring the best out of you sometimes.”

A roar rang out as time expired, and the arena sound system blared Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust. Dartmouth is 7-0 at home this season and is averaging better than four goals per game in Thompson. The Big Green bandwagon is starting to fill as expectations build that this could be one of the program’s best seasons in recent years.

“They were the better team tonight, and that’s the bottom line,” said UNH coach Dick Umile, his lips pursed and his expression dark. “They won it from start to finish.”

Said UNH forward Austin Block: “I thought we got dominated in the first period.”

During the few stretches where Dartmouth (8-2-2) did falter, sophomore goaltender Cab Morris had events in hand, finishing with a career-high 31 saves. The 6-foot-4 backstop wasn’t spectacular, but he made a number of difficult saves look routine and never gave off that shaky vibe that can make one’s squad nervous.

“He was seeing the puck really well all week in practice, and I thought it carried over to this game,” Gaudet said. “Tonight, he was confident and on and very sharp and he kept the puck in front of him. He’s a big guy and even on his knees, he reaches the crossbar.”

Dartmouth opened the scoring in the seventh minute, freshman Nick Bligh racing up ice, cutting across the top of the UNH zone and firing a shot from high in the left circle through the legs of goaltender Casey DeSmith. It was Bligh’s first college goal.

The Big Green doubled its lead five minutes later. Mike Keenan slid a pass along the blue line from the right boards to the center, from where freshman partner Ryan Bullock uncorked a one-time slap shot that caromed past DeSmith after striking a defender’s stick. Like Bligh, Bullock collected his first collegiate goal.

Although Dartmouth held a 15-8 shot advantage after a period, the Big Green surrendered a UNH goal on the second stanza’s first shot. Wildcats Grayson Downing and Block broke in two on one against Bullock, the former feeding the latter for a low shot inside the right post.

Dartmouth notched a huge tally eight minutes before the second intermission and while on a power play created when UNH’s Nick Sorkin was whistled for grabbing Eric Neiley by the neck during a post-whistle scrum near Morris.

“That’s a tough penalty to take, and obviously it ended up in the back of our net,” Block said. “That hurt us pretty bad. We have to stay out of the box … and that’s not a smart penalty.”

Less than a minute later, a blueline blast from Dartmouth defenseman Andy Simpson was tipped by a teammate before slamming off DeSmith’s blocker and dropping into the crease. Big Green center Tyler Sikura, cutting across the blue paint from right to left, banged the rebound inside the left post. The play snapped UNH’s streak of having successfully killed off 36 consecutive opponent power plays.

The tip “changed the angle of the shot, so I knew there was going to be a bobbled puck,” said Sikura, who leads Dartmouth with 18 points. “(DeSmith) had to stretch out for it a little bit.”

Gaudet called Dartmouth’s successful conversion of that power play the “turning point of the game. Going back to a two-goal lead and being able to maintain that into the third period was huge.”

UNH (11-3-2) took 15 of the third period’s 20 shots but never seemed to have Dartmouth on the ropes. McNally’s empty-net strike sent many of the fans streaming into the frigid night, smiles on their faces, their throats hoarse.

“For no students to be on campus and for us to still get a full building, it’s like having a sixth man,” Sikura said. “It’s definitely a home advantage.”

Notes: New Hampshire Governor John Lynch attended the game. … UNH’s last visit to Thompson Arena before last night was in December 2000, when the Wildcats lost 6-2 in the Big Green’s holiday tournament. The schools played in Manchester during the intervening 11 years and the plan is to use that site again next season. … Dartmouth’s scratches included defenseman and Orford native Nick Lovejoy, who had played the last two games. Also out was Jesse Beamish, who missed his second consecutive contest. Beamish played the first 25 games last season before a hand injury kept him out for the rest of the campaign. … Three of Dartmouth’s five seniors — Mark Goggin, Alex Goodship and Jason Bourgea — have yet to play this season. … The goaltenders in last night’s game, Dartmouth’s Morris and UNH’s DeSmith, were junior hockey teammates in Indiana. … Former Dartmouth coach George Crowe, watching the game, recalled recruiting current UMass coach John Micheletto at Milton (Mass.) Academy during the 1980s. Micheletto left the program after just 13 games but earned a degree in 1990. … Numerous nontraditional hockey markets are represented among the tournament’s players. Bemidji has skaters from Naples, Fla., Las Vegas and Murrietta and Whittier, Calif. UMass includes players from Simi Valley and Camarillo, neighboring towns in Ventura County, Calif., and UNH includes a player from the same neighborhood, in Thousand Oaks, as well as from San Jose. … From the Strange Injuries Department: Boston College may have lost defenseman Patch Alber for the rest of the season after he hurt his knee warming up with a soccer ball for a game at Minnesota on Saturday. … The pairwise rankings, one of the main ways in which NCAA playoff tournament berths are decided, listed UNH at No. 2 and Dartmouth at No. 4 before last night’s game.

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