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Looking back, it seems almost inconceivable that Greeley's hockey team struggled through an 0-18 season in 2009.
That's how far they've come.
The Quakers defeated Pawling, 6-3, on Thursday evening at Trinity-Pawling's Tirrell Rink to improve to 9-0 on the year.
"In my 10 years, it is the best start we've had," Greeley coach Zach Dargaty said. "It is definitely the most talented team we've had in my time here."
The shift from winless to always winning has been an incremental one. Greeley went 7-12-1 in 2010 and nearly doubled its win total last year by going 13-7-2. In 2012, the Quakers are well on their way to surpassing last year's mark. More importantly, they have an inside track to a potential top seed in the Section 1 Division 2 tournament.
"Everyone told me to stick with it because we had a lot of good kids coming through, and it has proven to be true," Dargaty said of the rocky road traveled.
Senior tri-captain Nicholas Girardi, who was a freshman on the '09 squad, has seen and experienced it all. As a result, he can really savor where the program is now.
"It's amazing," Girardi said. "We had a lot of incoming freshmen my sophomore year. As the years have gone on, they have gotten bigger and we have started moving the puck a lot better and improved. We have a lot of kids who play travel hockey up here at Brewster (Ice Arena) and at WSA (Westchester Skating Academy). The travel players help a lot."
According to fellow tri-captain Owen Gatto, there's a palpable buzz around the program.
"Now that we are 9-0 it has really turned around the program," the junior defenseman said. "We have a lot of guys who can play and a lot of guys who are really passionate about the sport."
Against Pawling (3-5-1), however, that passion was lacking out of the gate. The Tigers jumped out to a 2-1 lead less than five minutes into the second period.
"We were all kind of groggy coming here after the long bus ride," Girardi said.
With 4:25 left in the second period, the Quakers' potent offense finally awakened. Greeley netted three goals in the span of 72 seconds to take a 4-2 lead heading into the third period. Matt Zandi, who recorded a hat-trick and an assist, beat Pawling netminder Thomas Klinger (40 saves) five-hole to spark the surge. Gatto followed it up at the 3:27 mark, unleashing a tricky wrist shot from the blue line. Sam Mishkind capped the torrid stretch 15 seconds later, leaving the Tigers huffing and in a daze.
"We kept moving the puck more and really spread (Pawling) out," Gatto said. "We knew that we could skate around them and use our speed to pull away."
Zandi tallied back-to-back goals inside the opening five minutes of the third period to put the game on ice. The freshman forward has been a marvel this season and leads the team in scoring with 13 goals.
"(Zandi) has been tremendous this year," Dargaty said. "He's a small freshman, but he's really smart and plays with his head up. He makes decisions out there that put him in a good position to score and he's been able to capitalize. He's been our best and most consistent offensive player along with Scott Jakubowicz."
While Greeley's unblemished start to the season has been impressive, even Dargaty admitted the schedule has been kind to the Quakers. Rest-assured, there are plenty of litmus tests right around the corner. Greeley will play its three toughest games — against Rye, Bethel/Brookfield/Danbury (CT) and John Jay-Cross River — in January.
"Those are our big three games," Girardi said. "We are going to go hard and see what happens. We really believe that we can beat any team in the section if we play the right way."
GAME NOTES: Greeley's Nicholas Girardi (4G, 16A) and Scott Jakubowicz (8G, 12A) are tied for the team lead in points with 20
KEYS TO THE GAME
1. Like lightning: Greeley netted three second-period goals in the span of 72 seconds to take control of the game. Trailing 4-2 heading into the third period, Pawling never recovered. The Quakers have the combination of talented skaters and finishers to ring up goals in a hurry. In fact, they have scored a Section 1-best 72 goals thus far in 2012-13.
2. Hershfeld slams the door: Quakers netminder Neil Hershman got off to a bit of a slow start, letting in a pair of goals inside the first 19 minutes and 39 seconds of action. But he settled in and was nearly perfect from that point on, holding Pawling scoreless for 24 minutes and 31 seconds. Amber Cody scored the Tigers' final goal inside the final minute of regulation. ?
3. Sin bin nearly empty: To see a high school hockey game with just two penalties is beyond rare, but that was exactly the case on Thursday night. For Greeley — which doesn't play a pound-it-out brand of hockey — it worked out perfect.
Greeley 1 3 2 6
Pawling 1 1 1 3
HG (1:56) Justin Ellick from Matt Zandi and Nicholas Girardi | 1-0 HG
PA (1:39) Aiden King unassisted | 1-1
PA (10:21) Cody Adams from Matthew Bellucci and Taylor Folchetti | 2-1 PA *
HG (4:25) Zandi unassisted | 2-2
HG (3:27) Owen Gatto from Michael Yablon | 3-2 HG
HG (3:12) Sam Mishkind from Scott Jakubowicz | 4-2 HG
HG (14:10) Zandi from Girardi and Ethan Savitch | 5-2 HG
HG (11:27) Zandi from Cooper Swenson and Savitch | 6-2 HG
PA (0:50) Amber Cody from King and James Comerford | 6-3 HG
* Indicates power-play goal
Greeley: Matt Zandi (3G, 1A); Nicholas Girardi (2A); Ethan Savitch (2A); Owen Gatto (1G); Justin Ellick (1G); Sam Mishkind (1G); Michael Yablon (1A); Scott Jakubowicz (1A); Cooper Swenson (1A)
Pawling: Aiden King (1G, 1A); Cody Adams (1G); Amber Cody (1G); Matthew Bellucci (1A); Taylor Folchetti (1A); James Comerford (1A)
Greeley: Neil Hershman (18 saves)
Pawling: Thomas Klinger (40 saves)
Greeley 15 18 13 46
Pawling 6 9 6 21
Email Isaac Cass at Icass@cablevision.com | Follow him on Twitter @MSGV_Icass