With 18 underclassmen, Dartmouth faces plenty of unknowns

Dartmouth appears to be the baby of the league this season with a 10-man freshman class and eight sophomores on top of that. The Big Green’s top two goalies of the past four years have gone, and a team that was wracked by injuries last season now faces the challenge of regrouping with new faces and a lot of question marks.

“If my math’s correct, we have 18 freshmen and sophomores, and I’m excited about that,” said coach Bob Gaudet, who has made his fair share of adjustments over his 25 seasons at the helm. “I like our size. We may not have those household names right now, but I think we have some kids that are going to be very, very good.”

One of Gaudet’s go-to guys will be Montreal Canadiens prospect Dustin Walsh, whose role was more cameo than superstar last season. The senior striker scored three goals and 10 points in only eight games’ work his junior year, but his 21-19–40 line in 64 career games in Hanover establishes him as a credible source of offensive contributions.

“Dustin Walsh is as fine a player as I’ve had at Dartmouth,” Gaudet said. “He was injured all of last year with the exception of just a handful of games, and in those games, was just an outstanding player.

Gaudet added that Walsh is likely to see time on the retooled Big Green power play, hoping to improve on last year’s poor 14 percent success rate.

The squad faces a great unknown in goal, as Jody O’Neill and James Mello make way for junior Cab Morris or one of his rookie counterparts.

“Cab has more experience than people give him credit for,” Gaudet said. “He’s 6-[foot-]4, and he catches with his right hand so it throws a different look at people. Then we’ve got in the water James Kruger, a junior goalie who’s been around. He’s 6-3, a big, strong kid, very athletic. Charles Grant — a Canadian junior player — is 6-1. These kids are a little different for us in that they’re all big guys. I know we have some questions marks there, but I feel good that we’ve got three good goalies, and they’re going to fight it out.”

The Big Green will be leaning on its freshman and sophomore classes more than most this season, and one individual that should constitute an immediate presence is Nick Bligh out of Milton, Mass., and the EJHL’s South Shore Kings. The EJHL’s rookie of the year last season, the 6-footer Bligh put up 22 goals and 85 points in 43 games.

About the Big Green

2011-12 overall record: 13-16-4

2011-12 ECAC record: 8-11-3 (ninth)

2012-13 predicted finish (coaches’ poll): Seventh

Key losses: D Connor Goggin, F Doug Jones, G James Mello, G Jody O’Neill, F Nick Walsh

Players to watch: F Dustin Walsh, F Matt Lindblad, F Eric Robinson, F Tyler Sikura

Impact rookies: F Jack Barre, F Nick Bligh

Why the Big Green will finish higher than the coaches’ poll: Youth will be served: The team will quickly discover its emerging talents, and responsible defense will support a new No. 1 netminder.

Why the Big Green will finish lower than the coaches’ poll: With great potential comes great potential to be disappointed: The ship will prove rudderless and take too many lumps before righting itself in the second half.