DARIEN — The Darien girls ice hockey team will get its shot at a second straight FCIAC championship.
The top-seeded Blue Wave took the lead by scoring two goals in a 16-second span late in the first period and went on to defeat No. 4 Greenwich 4-2 in the FCIAC semifinals Thursday at the Darien Ice House.
Darien (9-2-1) will face off against the winner of Thursday’s late semifinal game between No. 2 New Canaan (10-1) and No. 3 Trumbull/St. Joseph (8-3-1) in the FCIAC final at 4 p.m., Saturday, at the Darien Ice House.
“Everybody’s really excited,” Darien’s Nelle Kniffin, a senior co-captain, said. “There’s a lot to make up for because we lost two in a row (to New Canaan on March 6 and 9) which is a heartbreaker, but everyone’s super pumped to show what we have and prove we deserve to win.”
The Cardinals finished with a record of 7-5-2.
“The Darien team is always deep, they’re always going to throw three lines at you, and they’re well-coached by those guys,” Greenwich coach Alex Lerchen said. “When it came down to it, we just didn’t execute.”
Darien and Greenwich had played to a 1-1 tied last Friday when Cardinals’ goalie Hannah Goldenberg made 47 saves in a fantastic effort.
Goldenberg racked up 42 saves in Thursday’s game and kept the Cards close despite being outshot 46-15.
“She was solid tonight,” Lerchen said “Goaltending has not been an issue for us. All our goaltenders have been great.”
The Cardinals came out and grabbed a 1-0 lead when sophomore Peyton Jelinek followed her own rebound to get the puck past Darien goalie Claire Haupt (13 saves) with 7:49 remaining in the first period.
The Wave dug in, kept up the pressure and struck twice late in the first.
With 1:56 to play, Darien sophomore Gretchen Edwards scored the equalizer with assists from freshman Maggie Bellissimo and sophomore Kelsey Brown.
Just 16 seconds later, a pass by senior co-captain Kate Bellissimo deflected off a defender and ended up on the stick of sophomore Chelsea Donovan, who scored to put Darien up 2-1.
“One thing this team does not lack is heart and you could see that in those 16 seconds,” Kate Bellissimo said. “Those girls, as soon as we went down a goal, no heads went down and we were ready to get one. That really says something.”
After a scoreless second period, Brown and senior co-captain Kelly Raymond scored early in the third frame for a 4-1 lead.
Greenwich sophomore Caroline Lawrence answered Raymond’s tally to make it a two-goal deficit with 9:24 remaining, but the Cards could get no closer.
A Darien-New Canaan contest in the FCIAC championship game would be a rematch of last year’s final, won by the Wave 3-1, and would be the fourth meeting of the season between the two rivals. The first three games have all been decided by one goal, with New Canaan winning twice.
Darien faced Trumbull/St. Joseph once this winter and won 9-1. The Eagles are having a remarkable season and on Monday earned the program’s first FCIAC playoff victory when they defeated Stamford/Westhill/Staples 6-2 in the quarterfinals on Monday.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Nelle Kniffin, Darien: Kniffin had one assist on the scoresheet, and the senior forward helped control the pace of play for the Wave.
“Jamie (coach Tropsa) always tells us to be aggressive and do what you can to get the puck back. Everyone’s really taken that to heart, gave it their all and tried to get shots on net. They have a great goalie, so props to them, but we gave them a lot of shots.” – Darien senior co-captain Kate Bellissimo