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December 07. 2012 12:54AM

Allen Lessels' College Hockey: Dartmouth bounces back

THIRTY AND COUNTING.

The University of New Hampshire hockey team had killed off 30 straight power plays by opponents heading into Thursday night's showdown with Boston University at the Whittemore Center.

Dartmouth has matched that.

UNH had the nation's second-best numbers in the country at killing penalties as it took on BU.

Dartmouth has the best.

Success while playing a man down is one of a few similarities between the state's two Division I hockey teams thus far this season.

Both are also enjoying bounce-back seasons.

"The team is playing real hard," said Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet. "We have a very, very young team and we're playing with a lot of energy. We have real good speed and good size and pretty good depth ... We're practicing real hard and really competing and I think they know we have to do that in order to have a chance to succeed. It's not guaranteed if you do that, but if you don't, you're not going to have a chance."

The Big Green beat Vermont, 4-2, on Wednesday night to hit their holiday break with a 7-2-2 overall record. They are 4-1-1 in the ECAC and are ranked No. 10 in the country.

Dartmouth's next game is against UNH in the first round of the Ledyard National Bank Classic in Hanover on Dec. 30. Bemidji State and Massachusetts play in the other first-round game.

There's a consolation game at 4 on New Year's Eve and the winners play at 7 for the championship.

Dartmouth had some injury issues last year and struggled at times and ended up with a 13-16-4 overall record after going 19-12-3 the season before.

Like UNH, the Big Green were playing well at the end of the season, but had little to show for it. This year, they picked up where they left off.

They've shored up their penalty killing big-time to this point.

"Specialty teams are huge," Gaudet said. "That's something we needed to find a way to be better at after last year. Sometimes it's as simple as getting pucks to the net on the power play and disrupting things on the penalty kill. A lot of it is luck and breaks, but I like to think you earn that luck."

Last year, opponents scored on 22.4 percent of their power plays against Dartmouth.

So far, the Big Green have allowed one power-play goal on 40 chances for a miniscule 2.5 percent rate.

Led by defensemen like senior captain Mike Keenan and Taylor Boldt and forwards including Tyler Sikura and Matt Lindblad, they've been doing some serious disrupting.

"I've been around long enough to know these things go in cycles," Gaudet said. "You work real hard at it and there's so much teamwork involved form the goalie out. Our guys have really worked well as a unit and we've had a good stretch with it. But we know it's not always going to be that way."

Dartmouth, after scoring 2.82 goals a game and giving up 3.09 a year ago, is averaging 3.55 and allowing 2.27.

Junior Cab Morris has a goals against average of 1.97 with a save percentage of .917 and a 4-1-1 record. Freshman Charles Grant is at 2.38, .921 and 3-1-1.

Sikura, a sophomore, has seven goals and 10 assists for 17 points.

The UNH-Dartmouth game in Hanover takes the place of the annual mid-January game at Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester.

The Wildcats are playing Hockey East rival Merrimack at the Verizon on Jan. 26.

UNH and Dartmouth are expected to be back at the Verizon next season.

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The UNH women, 7-11-1 overall and 4-4-1 in Hockey East, play Harvard at home on Saturday at 2.

The Dartmouth women, 4-4-2 overall and 3-3-0 in the ECAC, are at Maine for games on Saturday and Sunday afternoon ... the St/ Anselm men are off to a 6-2-1 start and don't play again until Jan. 4 at Fredonia State.

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Allen Lessels covers college sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. He may be reached at alessels@unionleader.com.

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