The Dartmouth College hockey team knew the drill.
Last March, the Big Green lost the opener of a first-round ECAC tournament series, then beat Harvard in two straight games to advance.
Fast forward to this past weekend. Dartmouth lost its first-round opener at Rensselaer Polytechnic, then rallied to win the series in a most improbable fashion. Helped by a pair of Eric Neiley goals, the Big Green won on Saturday night, 3-2, then rallied from a two-goal, third-period deficit on Sunday to win the rubber game, 5-4, in Brad Schierhorn’s goal with 2:14 remaining.
Dartmouth had not won a game when trailing after two periods in more than two years. Now, the No. 10 seeds are moving on to the league quarterfinals, at top-seeded Union this coming weekend in another best-of-three series.
Schierhorn’s game-winner was a wrist shot to the top right corner of the net. “After it went in, I looked up at the clock to see how much time was left. Honestly, I just thought about how we had to kill off the rest of it and hold on,” Schierhorn said in a jubilant Big Green locker room following the win. “I was just so excited to be able to put the team on top after everyone worked so hard all night.”
Dartmouth (10-18-4) is fairly hot entering the Union series. The Big Green have gone 6-2-1 over their last nine games after struggling for much of the season. Union, which had a first-round bye, is ranked third in the country.
Schierhorn’s heroics were made possible by the outstanding play of first-liners Eric Neiley, Brandon McNally and Grant Opperman early on in the third. With RPI content to dump the puck deep and hang back, the trio was able to move up the ice and attack goaltender Scott Diebold head on.
Neiley got things started with his third of the series at the 2:10 mark, burying a one-timer from Opperman at the top of the slot. He then set up McNally at 8:48 with a nearly identical shot and the same result, tying the game at 4-4 and quieting the RPI home crowd.
Then Schierhorn went to work, after receiving a perfectly placed saucer pass from Tim O’Brien.
“This team has something special to it. There is no quit in any of the guys in this locker room,” head coach Bob Gaudet said on his 55th birthday. “They wanted to go out and empty the tank in the third period.
“We came out ready to play that period and the goals seemed to correlate with that effort. From our goalie on out, we really wanted this one and I think it gave us a lot of confidence moving forward,” Gaudet said.