WEST HAVEN >> Fresh off a stirring season-opening win over No. 9 St. Joseph in the West Haven Christmas Tournament, the Xavier ice hockey team returned to Bennett Rink for a battle against another Top 10 team Thursday night.
And although the results were different – Notre Dame-West Haven topped the Falcons in the tourney semifinals – Xavier first-year coach Dan DeConti is happy with what he has seen during the first two games.
“I’m very happy,” said DeConti, who spent nine seasons as a Falcons assistant coach. “It’s only our second game and we’re a team that is still kind of learning how to play.”
The Falcons trailed Notre Dame, 2-1, after two periods. But three straight penalties early in the third period proved to be Xavier’s demise. The Green Knights, who were ranked No. 2 in the Register’s preseason poll, got a power play goal from Colin O’Connor and an empty net goal from Matt Dumas with 13 seconds left en route to the 4-1 victory.
Notre Dame outshot Xavier, 18-4, in that third period.
“In the third we didn’t play 5-on-5 until there were six minutes left,” said DeConti. “We just couldn’t get into a rhythm. We couldn’t run our four lines because we were on the penalty kill so much. We’ve got to do a better job of staying disciplined.”
No. 8 Xavier skated strong after the opening face-off and took a 1-0 lead on a goal from senior Andrew Meoli.
“They came out flying,” said Notre Dame coach Tim Belcher. “They definitely came out of the box wanting to play and we were still at the Christmas dinner table.”
Falcons junior David Piekut slipped a pass to Meoli near the left circle and Meoli wristed a shot past goalkeeper Justin Daddio (17 saves) with 6:27 left in the first.
It was Meoli’s third goal of the season.
“He’s an athlete,” Belcher said. “I’ve heard about him on the football field but on the ice he’s a great player. They have some pretty good defenseman too. They were able to keep us off-balance.”
Notre Dame tied it when junior Kyle Lynch (three assists) found Dumas open near the crease for a one-timer that Falcons junior goalie Ben Guidobono had no chance to save and it was 1-1 after one period.
Green Knights junior forward Ryan Lynch (two assists) made a terrific sweeping move past the Xavier defense and netted a power play goal that made it 2-1 with 6:31 left in the second.
“The players were coming off the ice saying, ‘we’ve got to turn it up.’ It was just a matter of doing it,” said Belcher. “Minus the first seven and a half minutes I thought we played very well.”
After killing off two straight penalties, Xavier couldn’t keep the Green Knights at bay after a third trip to the penalty box. Dumas rifled a shot from the point that ricocheted off Guidobono’s pad right to O’Connor, who blasted a high rising shot into the net for a 3-1 advantage with 5:12 remaining.
“We knew we couldn’t take penalties,” said DeConti. “They’ve got a great power play and we talked about that and we didn’t stay disciplined enough. We were supposed to be throwing everything at them and they threw everything at us.”
Guidobono finished with 32 saves as Notre Dame outshot Xavier, 35-18.
Xavier (1-1) will play Ridgefield today (5 p.m.) at Bennett in a tournament consolation game. Ridgefield defeated Xavier, 4-2, in the Division I state quarterfinals last March.
“This (tourney) is great,” said DeConti. “Being a first time head coach and being here and playing these teams is fantastic. (Notre Dame’s) a great team and I’m proud of the way we played. We just have to clean it up a little bit.”