After watching his team get off to a slow start its previous two games, New Canaan boys hockey coach Bo Hickey had reason to worry entering Saturday morning's game against rival Greenwich.
But the Rams quickly made Hickey put those worries to rest.
Senior forward Ben Patch set the tone early, scoring two first-period goals for New Canaan in its 4-2 triumph against Greenwich in a physical FCIAC matchup at Dorothy Hamill Skating Rink.
The victory was the first of the season for the Rams, who began their 2012-13 campaign with losses to Notre Dame-West Haven and Hamden, followed by a tie against Darien.
"I was worried about how we would come out, but the way we came out in the first period -- I was kind of shocked," Hickey said. "We had been sluggish against Hamden and sluggish at the start against Darien. I was more than happy with the way we came out in the first period. We played good ice hockey."
Patch tallied twice, sophomore forward Davis Bruch had two assists and junior forwards Harry Stanton and Jack O'Rourke added single goals for the Rams (1-2-1). Greenwich (2-2), which was outshot 12-4 in the opening period, but raised its level of play as the game progressed, received goals from sophomore forwards Alex Bastone and Matt Lodato.
"I can't fault the effort," Cardinals coach Bob Russel said. "A lot of guys worked hard and played with a lot of heart. We just have to eliminate the mental errors."
Patch's goal off a scramble in front of the net 5 minutes, 20 seconds into the first period gave New Canaan a 1-0 lead. One of the Rams' four captains, Patch struck again with 3:27 remaining in the opening period. With the Rams on a 2-on-1 rush, Bruch sent a wrist shot from the right wing that deflected off the pads of Cardinals sophomore goalie Bryan Archino. The opportunistic Patch knocked in the rebound, making it a 2-0 game.
"It's not much about stick handling skills or shots, I was just in the right place at the right time," Patch said. "We came out strong and the whole first period they had a hard time keeping with us."
Though New Canaan spent a lot of time in Greenwich's zone in the first period, its second period was spent killing penalties. The Rams were whistled for four penalties, but they still increased their lead. With the Cardinals on a 5-on-3 power play, New Canaan seized a three-goal advantage.
Stanton stole the puck in the neutral zone, skated up the ice on a breakaway and beat Archino with a backhand shot, putting the visitors in front, 3-0, 5:20 into the second period.
"Sitting on the bench during the power play and seeing Harry going straight for the net, I knew he was going to score," Patch said. "That gave us some more momentum."
"Being up 5-3 and giving away a goal was tough," Russel added. "We could have gotten down after that, but I thought we played well after that goal."
Still on the power play, Greenwich cut New Canaan's lead to 3-1 with 8:21 to go in the second period. Set up by sophomore forward Decker Curran, Bastone snapped a shot from close in past Rams senior goalie Christopher Koennecke. The Rams regained their three-goal cushion after O'Rourke's wrap-around goal -- a tally that came with his squad on a power play -- with 1:06 left in the second period. New Canaan was charged with seven penalties, while Greenwich had six.
"It seemed like we were playing most of the game killing penalties," Bastone said. "If we didn't have as many penalties we could have had a really good game."
Greenwich's best period was the third, as it displayed a strong forecheck and put more pressure on the puck. Lodato's power play goal with 8:19 left in the final period brought the Cardinals to within 4-2. But Koennecke (22 saves) kept GHS off the scoreboard thereafter. Archino made 24 saves for the Cards.
"I thought we picked it up at the end," Bastone said. "If we played like that from the start we could have had a really good game. We should have come out harder than we did."
Said Cardinals senior tri-captain and forward Paul Macken: "We're definitely an improved team from last year. The young guys are really stepping up and getting used to playing at this level. We need to stay out of the box and go 100 percent all the time -- we can't stop going -- we have to keep pressuring and attacking."
Both coaches know their young teams are a work in progress.
"We are relying on a bunch of sophomores coming from Bantam hockey," Hickey said. "They are learning that high school hockey is faster and everyone is a lot tougher. We're learning."
"I would have liked to have gotten this one, but all in all I can't be disappointed with where we are at this point in time," Russel said. "We did a much better job of getting the puck deep today and in the third period we pushed hard and created a lot of opportunities."
NEW CANAAN 2 2 0 -- 4
GREENWICH 0 1 1 -- 2
Goals: NC -- Ben Patch (2 g); Harry Stanton (1 g); Jack O'Rourke (1 g); G -- Alex Bastone (1 g); Matt Lodato (1 g). Assists: NC -- Davis Bruch (2 a); Trent Nader (1 a); Max Begoon (1 a). Goalies: NC -- Christopher Koennecke (22 saves); G -- Bryan Archino (24 saves). Shots on goal: New Canaan 28, Greenwich 24.
Records: New Canaan 1-2-1; Greenwich 2-2.