As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. After her latest goal, New Canaan’s Jess Eccleston isn’t likely to disagree.
Eccleston rifled in a goal from the point with 7:41 remaining as the Rams defeated the Greenwich Cardinals, 3-2, in a girls ice hockey showdown Friday night at the Darien Ice House.
A New Canaan senior co-captain, Eccleston took a pass from freshman Angelica Megdanis and quickly scanned the ice before taking her shot.
“In practice, we’ve been working on finding lanes and we have cones set up on the ice,” she said. “When I looked up, I saw the players and it was just like they were the cones, so I just shot it between them like I do in practice.”
The puck found the mark as the Rams defeated Greenwich for the first time since 2016. The Cards beat New Canaan three times last year, including in the FCIAC final.
“That was the first time we’ve beaten them since 2016, so that was big,” New Canaan head coach Rich Bulan said. “We played well and we got the win. Greenwich always comes to play us and they’re tough, they’re solid. The coaches kept it very positive between the second and third periods. Our game plan was to come out and play the best period we could, we did that, and we got a win.”
New Canaan also avenged its 3-2 loss to Greenwich during the Winter Classic outdoors at the Greenwich Skating Club on Dec. 29.
The Rams, who are 10-1 overall, are in the FCIAC driver’s seat with a 7-1 conference mark that now includes wins over both Greenwich and Darien.
Greenwich dropped to 6-4 overall and 5-3 in the FCIAC and, although they were edged by New Canaan, there were positives for the Cardinals.
“For one, it shows us that despite having a few losses right now, we can skate with anyone. Hopefully, this will give us a little confidence,” head coach Alex Lerchen said. “I really think the top seven teams in the state can skate with anyone.
“It was a back-and-forth type game, it was quick, and it was a fun game to be a part of.”
New Canaan received all three of its goals from defensemen, as sophomore McKenna Harden scored twice in the first period before Eccleston hit the net in the third frame. Eccleston also had two assists, while sophomore Anika Curri and Megdanis had one assist each.
Greenwich came from behind twice, with senior Teresa Marciano tying the game at 1-1 in the first period, and senior co-captain Jennifer Kelly scoring in second period to tie it at 2-2. Freshman Alexis Danielson and junior Katie Piotrzkowski each had an assist.
Freshman goalie Morgan Dall started for the Cards and collected 30 saves, as New Canaan held a 33-15 advantage in shots.
“She’s got great technique, she takes up a lot of the net, and she’s a competitor,” Lerchen said of his goalie. “I thought she played great tonight.”
New Canaan’s defense featured sophomore goalie Blythe Novick (13 saves), along with Eccleston, Harden, senior co-captain Katelyn Sparks and sophomore Sadie Frame.
“Defense was key today,” Harden said. “We always love it when the defense steps up in a game and the underclassmen stepped up too. They’ve contributed so much this season with the accuracy of their shots, and their passes helped us so much.”
Harden put the Rams on the board first when she roofed a shot from the slot just 1:19 after the opening drop.
Greenwich tied the score on Marciano’s goal from the point at 9:49, but New Canaan regained the lead with five seconds to go in the period when Harden scored again. Both of her goals were assisted by Eccleston.
“I’m not normally the one who skates it up, but I just got the lane and I took it,” Harden said of her first goal. “I knew that she wasn’t as strong up top, so I placed it up there and luckily it did go in. On the second shot, we’ve been working on that so much in practice — our footwork and driving the shot in.”
Greenwich tied it again as Kelly scored the only goal of the second period, cleaning up the puck after a rebound at 6:53.
“Usually, it’s the other way around,” Lerchen said. “We’ll get the first goal and then someone will come back on us. We’ve seen that many times with New Canaan. It was nice to see the girls battle back and not fold tonight.”
After the break between the second and third periods, the Rams came out re-energized.
“We talked about calming down, focusing on doing the small things and playing our game, not their game,” Eccleston said. “We talked about shutting them down, getting it in deep and then not letting them get the puck and it worked.”
Eccleston’s winning goal gave her four goals and three assists in the last two games.
“She had the hat trick Wednesday against Stamford and just before that game she complained to us that she was in a scoring slump,” Bulan said with a smile. “She gets three there, and then she had a goal and set up two tonight. She’s got the maturity and she understands she’s a big part of making those plays.”
Player of the game
Jess Eccleston, New Canaan. Eccleston delivered a great performance, locking things down on the defensive end and playing a part in all three Ram goals, including scoring the game-winner in the third period.
“On all three of our goals, there was a nice pass that set up the goal-scorer,” Bulan said. “We did a real nice job of looking for the open person and getting it to them. We had a good lane to shoot and they went in.” — New Canaan head coach Rich Bulan
NEW CANAAN 3, GREENWICH 2
Greenwich 1 1 0 – 2
New Canaan 2 0 1 – 3
First Period: NC – McKenna Harden (Anika Curri, Jess Eccleston) 1:19; G – Teresa Marciano (Alexis Danielson) 9:49; NC – Harden (Eccleston) 14:55; Second Period: G – Jennifer Kelly (Katie Piotrzkowski) 6:53; Third Period: NC – Jess Eccleston (Angelica Megdanis) 7:19
G – Morgan Dall 30 saves
NC – Blythe Novick 13 saves
Shots: G 15; NC 33
Records: New Canaan (10-1 overall, 7-1 FCIAC); Greenwich (6-4, 5-3)