DARIEN — It’s always a mystery how players are going to react come playoff time. When you’re talking about freshmen, the pressure can sometimes be a bit much.
The New Canaan girls ice hockey team has nothing to worry about.
Angelica Megdanis, Kaleigh Harden and Jade Lowe, three freshmen, scored during a span of four minutes and 18 seconds late in the first period as the Rams shut out the Fairfield co-op 4-0 in the FCIAC semifinals Thursday at the Darien Ice House.
New Canaan (18-1-2) advanced to the league championship game for the second straight year and for the 12th time overall. The Rams will face either Darien or Greenwich in the final at 4 p.m., Saturday, at the Darien Ice House.
In last year’s final, New Canaan lost to Greenwich 2-1.
“It’s definitely a motivator, but we are a different team, especially with so many underclassmen who’ve been stepping up this year,” New Canaan senior co-captain Jess Eccleston said. “We’re really excited to be in the final and it’s going to be a really good game.”
Against Fairfield (10-9-1), New Canaan had to overcome a brilliant performance by Fairfield’s sophomore goalie Sidney Falterer, who racked up 43 saves against 47 shots.
The Rams were dominant throughout, outshooting Fairfield 47-5 overall, including 15-0 in the first period and 15-1 in the second. The Rams’ persistence paid off, but it wasn’t easy.
“We’ve scored seven, four and four in the three games we’ve played them and honestly, they have good players, we just don’t let them get going,” New Canaan head coach Rich Bulan said. “Their goalie keeps them in it all the time. She’s just a great goalie and she played a very good game.”
“I told the girls it’s anyone’s game,” Fairfield head coach Michelle Marella said. “It depends on who shows up ready to play. We had a tough first period but the rest of the game, we came up and our plan was to keep it to the outside and not let them get into the slot.”
New Canaan broke the scoring ice at the 9:15 mark of the first period when sophomore McKenna Harden collected the puck for a shot from the top of the circle, and Megdanis tipped it home.
At 12:33, Kaleigh Harden popped out of the penalty box and was all alone for a long outlet pass from Eccleston. Harden skated in untouched and beat Falterer high for a power play goal.
Lowe then scored during a scramble, with an assist from freshman Caitlin Tully to make it 3-0 with 1:27 remaining in the first frame.
“It’s kind of been our MO, once we get a goal in, we get going and get a couple more,” Bulan said. “Next thing you know, we’re off to the races.”
“We did a really good job, crashing the net for rebounds, which is something we’ve been working on so it was amazing to see that today,” Eccleston said.
Falterer came up huge in the second period and early in the third, as New Canaan was scoreless for a span of nearly 29 minutes.
“She was incredible,” Marella said. “She’s very coachable, every single practice she asks us to work on things and she knows there’s always room for growth and she never stops. Every goal, she learns from it and she works to get better. Where very fortunate to have her and she’s only a sophomore.”
Eccleston picked up her second assist on the final goal of the game, when sophomore Anika Curri found the net on a power play.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Sidney Falterer, Fairfield. It’s not often that a goalie gives up four goals and can be considered the player of the game, but the Fairfield sophomore had a big night. Falterer faced 47 shots and made 43 saves, two of the goals she allowed were on power plays, and she held the high-powered New Canaan offense scoreless for a span of nearly 28 minutes from the first through third periods.
“It shows a great level of maturity from (the freshmen). As they’ve progressed throughout the year, they’ve gotten even better. At the beginning, they were really excited and now they understand what they need to do.” — New Canaan co-captain Jess Eccleston on the Rams’ young players
NEW CANAAN 4, FAIRFIELD 0
FAIRFIELD 0 0 0 — 0
NEW CANAAN 3 0 1 — 4
New Canaan: Kaleigh Harden 1g, Anika Curri 1g, Jess Eccleston 2a, Angelica Megdanis 1g, Caitlin Tully 1a, McKenna Harden 1a, Jade Lowe 1g Saves: F — Sidney Falterer 43, NC — Blythe Novick 5 Records: Fairfield (10-9-1), New Canaan (18-1-2)