Fresh off a road trip to Massachusetts in which his hockey team had a solid three-game performance, Notre Dame-West Haven head coach Larry Vieira was eager to see his Green Knights return to action in state.
The first contest back did not exactly start the way Vieira would have liked. After a slow first period which saw the Green Knights trailing, Notre Dame responded in emphatic fashion to defeat Hamden 5-1 at Lou Astorino Rink in Hamden Wednesday afternoon.
“Hamden is a proud, strong program,” Vieira said after his team improved to 4-0-1. “They took it to us in the first period. They made us make mistakes. Between periods, we just said let’s get back to what we do. We needed to win the battles on the boards, get the puck in deep and forecheck. That’s the formula that works for us.”
Trailing 1-0 after one period after Hamden’s Jack Shane knocked in a loose puck in front 1 minute, 35 seconds into the contest, Notre Dame turned it in the first 6:20 of the second period. The Green Knights were outshot 10-5 in the opening period, but then held Hamden to 13 shots the rest of the way, holding a 32-23 shot advantage by game’s end.
“We had a good first period,” Hamden coach Todd Hall said. “It is the way we want to start every game. We did not change anything. They just came out in the second period and took it to us. We gave them some opportunities and they capitalized. They scored and they scored again quickly. I think that took the wind out of our sails.”
The Green Knights, ranked third in the Register/GameTimeCT poll, needed just 1:26 of the middle period to even the contest as Zach Schroeder came down the left wing and snapped a shot past Hamden goalie Maxx Ricci off the post and in to even the game at one.
After the Green Knights had a pair of odd-man rushes turned aside, they took the lead for good with a pair of goals in a span of 46 seconds.
Joseph D’Agostino beat Ricci again off the left wing for a 2-1 advantage, before John D’Errico scored in front, off assists from Ryan Ahern and Chris Hughes with 8:40 remaining in the second period.
The assist was the first of three points on the day for Ahern, who finished with a goal and two assists in the win.
“We came back to the locker room and coach (Vieira) told us we needed to give it our all or we were not going to win this game,” Ahern said. “When we came back out, we worked harder and we outskated them.”
The rest was up to the Notre Dame defense. The Green Knights allowed just eight shots in the second period and five more in the third.
“Our defense has two juniors and a couple of seniors,” senior defenseman Robert Goetze said. “We are just trying to get pucks out of the zone. It came down to us winning the battles in the corners. We did that in the second and third periods. They won every one in the first period. We knew we had to do better and we were able to win those battles in the second and third periods.”
Goetze was also a key piece on offense for the Green Knights as his point shot rolled through the crease before Hamden cleared it away with 3:57 left in the second. Just 52 seconds later, Goetze sent Ahern in on a two-on-one break and Ahern finished with a shot over the shoulder of Ricci for a 4-1 lead with 3:05 left in the second.
“We just want to get shots on net,” Goetze said. “We have four lines we can roll out there and they can all score.”
Eighth-ranked Hamden (4-1) tried to get closer as the third period began when a shot by defenseman Alex Ponzio rang off the post 1:15 in, but the Green Dragons were unable to get closer.
The Green Knights capped the scoring with 8:52 remaining in the contest when Robert Allan scored off an assist from Ahern.
“I was impressed with the way we played, especially as it was just two days after a tough trip for us physically and mentally,” Vieira said. “It was a workman-like effort from us.”
Connor Smith made 22 saves in the win for Notre Dame, while Ricci finished with 27 saves in the loss.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Ryan Ahern – Notre Dame junior finished with a goal and two assists in the victory.
“I am thrilled with the start. We have beaten some quality teams. We realize it is a long road, but this is a good start.”
— Notre Dame coach Larry Vieira