After starting the season without a loss through its first 14 games, the Horace Greeley hockey team has recently been brought back down to earth.
When they took the ice at Brewster Arena on Thursday night to host Pawling, the Quakers were looking for their first victory in nearly three weeks and had dropped three of their last four games.
But sophomore forward Calder Fontaine scored two goals and assisted on another as the Quakers easily skated past the Tigers for the second time this season, winning 7-2 on Senior Night to serve notice that they’re ready to make an impact in the sectional tournament that starts this week.
“I thought tonight was really nice that the kids kind of bounced back heading into the playoffs,” said Greeley coach Zach Dargaty. “One of the things we stressed before the game, it wasn’t so much the winning and losing, just that we wanted to make sure we were playing really well. I mean, if we’re playing well, I think we’re gonna win most of the time.”
The Quakers, seeded third in Section 1’s Division 2 tournament and awaiting the winner of Monday’s Fox Lane vs. Byram Hills first-round game, jumped ahead of Pawling when Owen Gatto blasted a shot from just beyond the right point past Tiger goalie Justin Virkus six minutes into the contest. But 32 seconds later, the Tigers evened the game with a Tyler Parker goal.
Fontaine, though, gave the Quakers the lead for good with 4:43 remaining in the opening period. Moments after a Greeley power play had ended, he came around the back of the Tiger net and scored on a wraparound before Virkus could get to the near side. Just seven seconds after Fontaine’s first goal of the evening, Scott Jakubowicz put the puck right back in the net and the Quakers took a 3-1 lead after one period.
Pawling narrowed its deficit to one goal when Matt Bellucci sent a long slap shot past the Quakers’ Neil Hershman 15 seconds into the second period. Greeley had a big chance a couple of minutes later, but Blake Davis was denied on a breakaway. Five minutes into the period, Mike Yablon nearly poked in a rebound in front of the net.
The Quakers finally regained their two-goal lead when freshman Matt Zandi, with an impressive individual effort, put the puck past Virkus after skating in along the right wing in the final half minute of the second period. Greeley poured it on in the third period, getting another goal from Fontaine with eight minutes remaining and then later on from Ryan Katchis and Sam Mishkind 30 seconds apart.
“We kind of went into this game trying to get everyone involved,” said Dargaty. “Heading into the playoffs, everyone’s gonna shorten their bench. You can’t play 27 guys. So we were trying to get everyone involved. I really liked the way we were playing. A lot of the kids that hadn’t played a lot of minutes were getting on the ice and were making good plays.”
The one-sided triumph enabled the Quakers to finish the regular season with a record of 14-3-2 and put behind them the stinging memory of an overtime loss to Fox Lane last month when they had a two-man advantage as the Foxes scored the game-winning goal.
“The Fox Lane game, that one really hurt,” conceded Dargaty. “The Fox Lane game was the one where we lost our chance to win this league. That really kind of deflated the team mentally. We were a little down and that carried over into the following games. We struggled in Ryetown/Harrison and we hadn’t been finishing and playing with the same intensity.”
Dargaty can only hope that intensity is back again on Wednesday evening when the Quakers start their playoff quest at the Brewster Ice Arena after getting a first-round bye.
“We had a really good season,” he said. “We’ve played some really good hockey and a lot of coaches have said to me they like the way our team plays. All you can do is give yourself the best chance to win and I think our kids understand they’re not the best players, we’re not the best team. But we can win and that has not always been the case.”
All Dargaty has to do is think back to a few years ago, when the Quakers went winless, to realize how far his team has come. “There were years where no matter how well we played, we just weren’t gonna beat certain teams,” he said. “This year, I think if we play at a certain level, we can beat anybody.”