Jin Lee / The Dartmouth Staff
The highest-seeded team without a first-round bye in the ECAC playoffs, the Big Green won the right to play last place Harvard, thanks to a fifth-place finish in the ECAC regular season standings and a tie-breaker over St. Lawrence University. Despite a less than intimidating regular season record that saw Harvard finish last in the ECAC for the first time in program history, the Crimson cannot be taken lightly, head coach Bob Gaudet said.
"They're a really good skill team, and on the other hand they're stingy defensively," he said. "It's a good matchup."
The Big Green enters the playoffs hoping to rebound from a tough final weekend that saw Dartmouth tie with Princeton University 2-2 before falling to Quinnipiac University 4-1 on senior night in Hanover. Despite these frustrating results, the mood in the Big Green locker room is positive, co-captain and Ivy League First-Team selection Mike Keenan '13 said. Tyler Sikura '15 also received a first team selection while Matt Lindblad '14 earned second team honors.
"I think everyone's excited for the playoffs," Keenan said. "It's a whole new season. Hopefully we'll get a nice big crowd, and we'll go from there."
To the Big Green's advantage, the team will play the first two games of the series, and the third if necessary, in the friendly confines of Thompson Arena, where Dartmouth holds an impressive 10-4-1 record this season. The Big Green won eight of the nine playoff series it hosted in Hanover over the years.
"It's huge," Keenan said of the home-ice advantage. "Obviously our record at home speaks for itself."
At home, the Big Green will face a familiar foe, having matched up with the Crimson twice already this season, and 194 times overall. This season, the Big Green came away with a 3-2 win against the Crimson at home on Jan. 12, thanks to the late game heroics of Jesse Beamish '15, but settled for a 1-1 draw on the road in Cambridge on Feb. 10.
The Big Green tailored its preparation and focused on tactical keys to beating the Crimson.
"We have to deny some of their high forwards, and get pucks to net offensively," Gaudet said.
In a concise and hopefully effective strategy, the Big Green will attempt to return to the basics.
"Basically we're trying to keep it simple," attacker Dustin Walsh '13 said. "We haven't been scoring [recently], and guys have been trying to do too much. We're hoping to work hard in the defensive zone and then opportunities will create themselves."
Any game plan against the Crimson must focus on Harvard forward Jimmy Vesey, who was named Ivy League Rookie of the Year. Vesey is the Crimson's co-leading scorer in all matchups, and is second on the roster in points to senior forward Alex Fallstrom, another attacking threat.
"Every time we look at the opposition, we know key players," Gaudet said. "The key thing to us is to know key players, but to play our game. Everyone can burn you. I want our guys to focus on what we need to do."
As both coaches attempt to gain a tactical advantage and motivate their teams to victory, perhaps the biggest decision by Gaudet will come when he pencils in his starting goalie. Cab Morris '14 and Charles Grant '16 platooned in the net all season, and both have put in solid performances, leaving Gaudet with a choice made even more challenging given solid practice play from James Kruger '16.
"I like our goaltenders, these guys really battle," Gaudet said. "Any guy gives us a chance to win."
As of press time, Gaudet was still making his decision.
Unranked for the first time this season, the Big Green needs positive results this weekend to not only advance in the ECAC tournament, but creep closer to a top 16 spot that determines NCAA playoff seeding.
"It was always something we were keeping an eye on, but at this point we've just got to try to win games," Walsh said.