Greenwich rallies to beat New Canaan in FCIAC girls hockey showdown

The New Canaan Rams were at a bit of a disadvantage as they got set for their girls ice hockey showdown against the Greenwich Cardinals.

Two defenders — junior Jess Eccleston, an All-State player, and sophomore Sophie Potter — were sidelined for the game, and thus the Rams had to do some shuffling with their lineup.

In the end, New Canaan’s depth was on display and the Rams delivered an outstanding performance, holding Greenwich scoreless through two periods. But a quirky bounce and a late penalty led to two third-period goals for the Cardinals, who skated out of the Darien Ice House with a 2-1 win and, most likely, the No. 1 seed for the FCIAC playoffs.

New Canaan was had plenty of opportunities during the first two periods, but cashed in just once on a goal by freshman Courtney O’Connell. The Cardinals stayed within striking distance and were able to rally for the victory.

“How many breakaways or semi-breakaways?,” New Canaan head coach Rich Bulan said. “It was like I just said to the girls: It wasn’t for lack of effort or the way we skated or whatever. You make a mistake here or there and it’s going to come back and bite you, and it did. They’re a very good team. They took advantage of the chances they got and boom, the puck’s in the net.”

“The energy was up the whole game and you could really see that in the second period,” senior co-captain Brooke Deane said. “We came out in the third period, we were ready to play, and we had some unlucky bounces. We had some goals we should’ve scored, and they took advantage of their chances.”

Greenwich (15-2-1 overall, 11-1-1 FCIAC) now has 23 points in the conference standings and can wrap up the top seed for the tournament by either tying or beating the Wilton/Norwalk/McMahon co-op on Sunday, Feb. 18.

New Canaan (16-3, 11-2) has one game remaining, also against Wilton, and can clinch the No. 2 seed with a tie or a victory in that game. Both of the Rams’ league losses have come against Greenwich, although Monday’s game was a far better showing than their 4-1 loss to the Cards in January.

New Canaan’s likely opponent for the FCIAC semifinals on Feb. 21 is rival Darien, a team the Rams have already beaten twice this winter, 2-1 and 2-0.

“We’ll have a lot more confidence, knowing that we beat them twice, but it’s hard to beat a good team three times,” Deane said. “I think we can do it.”

New Canaan’s adjustments for the two sidelined defenders had freshman forward Anika Curri dropping back to play with freshmen McKenna Harden and Sadie Frame, and junior Katelyn Sparks, with goalie Blythe Novick, another freshman, making 20 saves in the goal.

“We’re down two of our big defenders and we have five defensemen, so we brought a forward down,” Deane said. “You could see on our power play at first, it was definitely an adjustment without those girls, but defensively, we gave it all we got and did well.”

“Blythe played solid for us; in big games, she’s played really, really well,” Bulan said. “Overall, you won’t have known we didn’t have Eccleston or Potter. We dropped Anika back and we went with the three freshmen and they played hard and it was a good game.”

Both teams came out firing in the first period, and New Canaan had several opportunities from senior forwards and co-captains Gianna Bruno, Liz McCarthy and Deane, along with O’Connell, Connell and freshman Kelly Benson generating the offense.

In the second period, New Canaan outshot the Cards, 9-2, but goalie Hannah Goldenberg (20 saves), held tough with a few keys saves on shots by Benson, Connell and McCarthy.

Novick also made a big stop on her own when she shut down a breakaway attempt by Jen Kelly.

New Canaan broke the deadlock with 3:17 remaining in the period, when Connell sent the puck to the front of the net and O’Connell chipped it high for a 1-0 lead.

“She brings a lot of energy to the team and she was really excited about that goal,” Bulan said of O’Connell. “I’ve got some tough decisions to make with the All-FCIAC balloting because G, Brooke and Liz are having their usual good years for us, and Anika, Kelly and Courtney have really had a great seasons.”

Greenwich tied the game 12 seconds into the third period, when Riley Ellsworth flung the puck from the boards towards the goal and it deflected off a defender and into the net.

The Cardinals went to the power play when Bruno was called for roughing a few minutes later, and Greenwich scored to take the final 2-1 lead. Kelly set the play up with a pass in front for Sydney Orszulak, who one-timed it past Novick for the power play goal with 7:16 remaining.

In the period, the Rams fired eight shots at Goldenberg, but were unable to find the net as the Cards took the win.

Now, the Rams will turn their attention to one final regular-season game and then a postseason which shapes up to be a thriller at both the conference and state level.

“This is playoff hockey,” Bulan said. “These games are going to be fun. I think it’s one of those years where you can throw us, Greenwich, Darien, Amity, Suffield, Hamden, whatever, in a hat and you’re going to have a good game.”

Greenwich 2, New Canaan 1

Monday, Feb. 12, at Darien Ice House

Greenwich 0-0-2 2

New Canaan 0-1-0 1

Greenwich: Riley Ellsworth 1 goal; Sydney Orszulak 1 goal; Jen Kelly 1 assist

New Canaan: Courtney O’Connell 1 goal; Quincy Connell 1 assist

Goalies

G – Hannah Goldenberg 20 saves

NC – Blythe Novick 20 saves

Shots

G – 22; NC – 21

New Canaan freshman Blythe Novick knocks the puck away during a strong performance Monday night at the Darien Ice House. — Dave Stewart photo

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