CRESTWOOD - With seven freshmen on its team, it was understandable that it might take Mount Carmel some time before it could begin to put things together against other opponents in the Chicago Catholic Hockey League.
After starting their league season with a 1-4 record and being outscored 28-11 in the process, the Caravan are suddenly feeling a lot better about their situation after following up on an 11-4 victory over Notre Dame on October 30 with a satisfying 4-1 triumph over St. Rita of Cascia on Thursday at Southwest Ice Arena.
Mount Carmel (3-4) scored two goals in just under four minutes, with the second of those being a short-handed tally to grab a 2-0 edge after one period. After the Mustangs (4-4) closed to within 2-1 in the next period, the Caravan responded less than five minutes later with a score on a power play and then added its fourth tally in the late going.
Daniel Pardol scored the first two goals to lead the Caravan attack while Michael Tracy connected to make it 3-1 and Danny Armstrong capped the victory with the fourth goal.
George Keeley, Danny O'Connor and Tracy each added an assist for the winners.
St. Rita, which had won four of its last five games after getting off to an 0-2 start in CCHL play, had a 36-35 advantage in shots on goal but was unable to capitalize on a pair of first-period power plays and it only managed to get one shot from Luke Maher past Caravan goalie Matt DiFilippo, who finished with 35 saves.
"The team did well all-around," said DiFilippo, who shares captain duties along with Carter Gerstner, Armstrong and Keeley. "The penalty kill came up big and we didn’t let up any goal on the power play, which we've been practicing all week. The 2-0 lead definitely set the tone for the game and we were dominant throughout and putting pressure on them all game and the pressure they were putting on us, we were getting it by them and bringing the puck out nice, so the whole team played well.
"We have seven freshmen, so we're a young team and it's good to see them get some experience and they'll be good in a few years. I like the guys that I'm with, it's a really good group."
After seeing his squad allow just one goal, which was two less than their previous-low of three goals in a 5-3 victory over Providence Catholic on October 8 for their initial CCHL win,
Caravan coach Tom Mayhan was obviously very pleased by his team’s performance in all aspects.
"Our older guys showed up today," Mayhan said. "(Number) 19 (Keeley) and 73 (Armstrong), they were playing tonight. It was a very clean hockey game and our goal was to win the blue lines, get it out and get it deep. No fancy business, that’s not us, we're a hard-hat team."
Scoring two quick goals in short order with one of those being while down a man, the 2-0 lead after one period was just the sort of start that their coach was hoping for and with his goalie performing well throughout, Mount Carmel took a big step forward.
"Our junior goalie, Matt, was phenomenal tonight," Mayhan said. "We're extremely young and there were seven freshmen playing today, which is unheard of in a varsity hockey game. But the leaders treat them like equals and are teaching them and there’s no egos. They're really humble and they teach them and don't yell at them."
Pardol started the scoring at 12:13 of the first period when he got past defenders and connected from close range, following an assist from Keeley. Then 37 seconds after going down a man due to a penalty, Pardol was at it again at 16:09 of that same period when he got free in front following a pass from Tracy.
St. Rita closed to within a goal at 5:15 of the second period when Luke Maher put in a loose puck from close range following a deflection by DiFilippo. But the one-goal difference was brief as Mount Carmel capitalized on a power play at 10:05 of the middle period when the puck glanced off of Tracy and went into the net.
St. Rita goalie and captain Mike Menard also turned in a good performance, making 32 saves. He was taken off the ice in the late going as the Mustangs went with an extra attacker and that resulted in an empty-net goal by Armstrong at 15:00 of the third period, with the score being set up on a pass from O'Connor.
'It was a great game to play in front of all of our fans," Armstrong said. "It was just a good win. The team played solid and we all played a well-rounded hockey game, and that’s what we like to see. It was all-around a gritty game, so we just had to battle through it.
"Us older guys do our part to teach the new kids as much as we can while we're on the ice. I like the community and the friendships on our team, it's all great. There's good team bonds all the way around."
Other Caravan players that had threatening attempts included Eric Mercado and Gerstner. St. Rita also received multiple shots on goal from players that included Aidan Devlin, Jake Jana, Joe Kostelc, Michael Perry and Jack Specht.
The Mustangs also fell behind 2-0 after one period on Friday and lost 3-1 to Providence at Arctic Ice Arena with Jana getting his team's lone goal in the second period.
"We've been doing pretty good and our team chemistry has developed pretty well,” said St. Rita's Mark Hernandez, who shares assistant captain duties with Trent Scianna.
"I like everybody's' effort. Everyone really wants the puck and everybody wants to win games and to win battles. The effort is really inspiring and every time you look over, the
other guys want it just as much, which is a good thing since it keeps driving you.
"Our best games come when we're passing the puck and communicating well. Take the Marmion game, for example, which was an 8-0 win, we were passing incredibly in that game and everybody was communicating. If we can keep that going, we’ll get on a better roll and start to win even more games."