— NDWHAthletics (@NDWHAthletics) February 6, 2020
WEST HAVEN — After starting the season with seven straight victories, the Notre Dame-West Haven hockey team hit a bit of a funk, losing four of six games heading into Wednesday evening’s tilt with Xavier. Included in that drought was a drubbing at the hands of Fairfield Prep.
Looking to turn the corner from the loss to the Jesuits, the Green Knights, ranked third in the GameTimeCT/Register Top 10 poll, had the perfect formula.
Behind 34 saves from junior Connor Smith, timely scoring, and a complete team effort, Notre Dame topped seventh-ranked Xavier 3-1 at the Edward L. Bennett Rink in West Haven.
“We have been struggling a little bit,” Notre Dame coach Larry Vieira said. “We came back and refocused Monday after the Fairfield Prep game. Tonight was a complete team effort. We had four lines, seven D (defensemen), and Connor Smith played an outstanding game. It was a great team effort.”
For Xavier (6-5-1), it was a game of missed opportunities and one that turned around in a span of 45 seconds of the third period when Notre Dame scored twice to take a 3-0 lead.
The Green Knights (10-4) took a 2-0 lead 2 minutes, 53 seconds into the third period when Bobby Allan jammed the puck past Xavier goaltender Justin Child. Child and Xavier coach Karl Sundquist thought the puck was frozen, and when Sundquist argued the call, the Falcons were given a bench minor.
“My goalie said he had the puck,” Sundquist said. “I agreed with him. I stood up for him and we got called for it. But, that is a good hockey team over there. We gave them a game until that third period when they scored the two goals.”
Notre Dame needed just 45 seconds to capitalize as John-Michael Childs scored from the top of the circle off assists from Zachary Schroeder and John D’Errico for a 3-0 lead.
With the three-goal lead, the rest was up to Smith and the junior came up big with 16 saves in the final period. Smith denied Jake Lion on a breakaway with 9:01 remaining, before the Falcons got within 3-1 when Jonathan Ford scored a power play goal from the point with 7:26 to go in the third.
Smith denied Geoff Baumgaertner with a pad save off a rebound with 4:37 left, then denied Garrett Baier in close with another pad save 1:02 later. When Smith turned aside a deflected shot by Matt Ryan and another by Adam Bradshaw in less than a minute, Notre Dame was on its way to its 10th victory of the season.
“The team blocked a lot of shots for me and they let other shots get through so I could see them,” Smith said. “This was a huge rebound game for us. We came out ready to go from the drop of the puck in the first period. We played a complete game.”
The Green Knights scored the only goal of the second period when D’Errico stuffed a shot between the legs of Child with 3:45 remaining.
The goal by D’Errico erased what was a period of missed opportunities for the Green Knights as Smith turned aside eight shots, including Aden Hotchkiss in front with a pad save with 9:15 remaining, and Ryan in the slot with a glove save with 5:10 to go.
“In my opinion, Connor Smith is the best goaltender in the state,” Vieira said. “The Fairfield Prep game was just not his night. He came back and responded in a huge way like I knew he would.”
The first period saw plenty of back and forth action with each goaltender turning aside 10 shots in a scoreless stanza.
The Green Knights had the better of the opportunities, but Child denied Ryan Ahern from the slot 1:18 in, then Schroeder from the same spot 3:11 later. Child also came up big again when he denied Connor Faughnan in front off a rebound with 2:18 to go in the opening period.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Connor Smith — Notre Dame junior made several huge saves, particularly in the third period when he turned aside 16 shots on his way to a 34 save performance.