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UMass Bludgeons Dartmouth

Tuesday, January 01, 2013
Hanover — The ceiling of the Dartmouth men’s hockey locker room at Thompson Arena is solid concrete. Which was a good thing for the Big Green last night, shortly after losing 3-2 to Massachusetts in its holiday tournament title game.

Downstairs, the hosts undressed in grim silence, while directly above them in another room, the Minutemen cranked up a portable stereo and thoroughly enjoyed themselves in their temporary digs. So loud was the celebration that the door to the space had to be closed so that postgame interviews could be easily conducted in the hallway below.

UMass forward Branden Gracel scored what proved to be the winning goal just 15 seconds into the third period, a power-play sequence during which an onrushing teammate threw the puck to the net from the right wing and Gracel popped in a plump rebound at the far post.

Afterwards, the Minutemen (7-9-2) posed for a group photo with the championship plaque, acting as if they’d captured a league title and not just a tournament crown. Then again, UMass won just two of its 15 road games last season, leading to the exit of its coach and the arrival of former Vermont assistant and onetime Dartmouth player John Micheletto.

“Winning championships is a valuable skill and I hope it goes a long way for us,” said Micheletto, whose team scored twice in nine power-play opportunities to snap Dartmouth’s streak of 32 successful penalty kills. “I hate to use basketball phrases, but teams go on runs and the (successful) ones are the ones that can reign momentum back in on their side.”

Momentum swung back and forth in this one, a wild and wooly affair injected with playoff intensity and muddled by ham-handed officiating. Each team had a goal waved off and a player ejected, and 23 penalties were whistled in all.

“It was disjointed, emotional and electric,” Micheletto said. “Both teams were fired up, there was spirited play and there were some interesting calls both ways. It was a good test for everybody involved.”

Dartmouth (8-3-2) entered the night as the least-penalized of the 59 teams in NCAA Division I, but it paid the price for committing 13 infractions last night. Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet seemed frustrated by the game’s uneven pace, a casualty of chippy play and so many whistles. The Big Green was scoreless in five power-play chances.

“We expended a lot of energy killing penalties and there was no flow to the game,” said Gaudet, whose team lost for the first time in eight home games this season. “We worked really hard and I’m disappointed in the result, but I can’t put my finger on why we lost. It wasn’t like we were running around like knuckleheads out there. The referees see the game as they see them, and we have to just take it for what it’s worth.”

UMass struck for the game’s first goal in the fourth minute. Conor Sheary’s shot from the left point soared through traffic and into the net’s far corner over goaltender Cab Morris’ blocker shoulder. The Big Green answered seven minutes later, Brett Patterson and Eric Neiley chugging up ice late in a shift and the former converting a pass from the latter to finish a two-on-one opportunity.

A Minutemen goal was waved off for goaltender obstruction in the 11th minute and Dartmouth went up 2-1 less than a minute later. Power forward Dustin Walsh, a lefthanded shot, threaded a magnificent shot from the bottom of the right circle and into a tiny space over the near shoulder of goaltender Kevin Boyle.

The Big Green appeared to take a 3-1 lead two minutes after Walsh’s tally, but Tim O’Brien’s tally out of a goalmouth scramble was waved off. In the scrap that followed, UMass skater Joel Hanley was ejected for using a grip on Neiley’s face mask to repeatedly slam his head into the ice, and Neiley was handed a minor for goaltender interference.

The Minutemen pulled into a 2-2 tie with the second period’s lone goal. Eddie Olczyk moved across the Dartmouth blue line and beat Morris with a shot from the top of the right circle. It was the senior’s first goal in 53 games.

The loss ended what might have been the shortest stint atop an NCAA sports poll in the history of such rankings. Dartmouth, lifted to the top of the pairwise rankings yesterday morning, was removed from its perch in the minutes following the UMass game’s final horn.

The pairwise standings, conducted by the website U.S. College Hockey Online, mimic the rather complicated formula used to select the 16-team NCAA Division I playoff field each March. Dartmouth climbed atop the rankings by virtue of Saturday’s 4-1 defeat of New Hampshire on the tournament’s opening day, but didn’t have time to settle in before sliding into a three-way tie for second with New Hampshire and Quinnipiac.

Gaudet said he was unaware of his team’s rise and fall, but added he doesn’t spend much time worrying about such computations until the season’s final weeks. Dartmouth gets no break in the schedule, which sends the Big Green to face Quinnipiac on Friday night. The Bobcats are unbeaten in their last 13 games, and a clash at Princeton follows at 4 p.m. Saturday.

“At the end, we’ll have hopefully put ourselves in a position where it means something,” Gaudet said. “Now we’re going to play a good team Friday night and we need to get some rest and get ready.”

Notes: O’Brien was ejected in the second period for what was deemed a hit to the head. … Attendance was announced at 3,182. … Dartmouth defenseman Mike Keenan and center Tyler Sikura were included on the all-tournament team. … UNH defeated Bemidji State, 3-2, in overtime to win the tournament’s consolation game. … Olczyk is the son of former NHL and U.S. Olympic player Eddie Olczyk, Sr. His uncle, Rick Olczyk, who once played for Gaudet at Brown, is assistant general manager of the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers and scouted last night’s game. … Former Lebanon High hockey captain Luke Ceplikas reprised his role of leading the Big Green onto the ice while skating and holding a large “D” flag. Back on holiday break from the University of Vermont, Ceplikas — the son of Dartmouth deputy athletic director Bob Ceplikas — previously performed the duty while in high school.

Tris Wykes can be reached at or 603-727-3227.

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