GREENWICH — Saturday’s Winter Classic matchup between the Greenwich High School and Amity/North Haven/Cheshire girls ice hockey teams began one hour later than it was scheduled to start due to traffic on the always crowded I-95. Yet waiting around for their opponents to arrive on a snowy Saturday afternoon didn’t prevent the Cardinals from soaring to a strong start.
Jennifer Kelly made sure of that.
A junior forward, Kelly scored five goals, four of which came during the first period, to power Greenwich to an impressive 6-1 win over Amity/North Haven/Cheshire in a game played outside during a steady snowfall at frigid Greenwich Skating Club.
Kelly scored three times over the first 7:43 of the first period and notched her fourth tally with 3:46 still remaining in the opening session.
“Playing out there today in the Winter Classic was an amazing feeling,” Kelly said. “It doesn’t get much better than that. We had a long time to mentally prepare ourselves and they were coming here off a long bus ride.”
At 5-0, Greenwich has yielded just two goals on the season, while tallying 26.
“We came out firing today, the team was ready,” GHS coach Alex Lerchen said. “On days like this, it’s hard to know when a game is going to start, but our team stayed focused. You can’t control the outside factors, you just have to roll with the punches.”
While the Cardinals entered the much-anticipated matchup ranked fourth in the state, Amity/Cheshire/North Haven was ranked fifth. Their record stands at 5-2 following the loss.
“We had a long bus ride, we sat in the bus for a while and they came out fast,” Blades coach Scott Whyte said. “We collapsed a lot in our zone and they have a great fast-skating team.”
DOMINANT FIRST PERIOD
Kelly’s first goal came with 13:01 left in the opening period, giving GHS a 1-0 lead. Sophomore defender Katie Piotrzkowski’s shot on goal from the left faceoff circle was tipped in by the opportunistic Kelly.
At the 9:27 mark, freshman forward Emiri Fukuchi tallied, making it 2-0. Kelly then scored off a 2-on-1 rush up the ice with 7:44 to go in the first period and tallied again after the ensuing faceoff, putting Amity/North Haven/Cheshire in a quick 4-0 hole.
“Props to my teammates for setting me up,” Kelly said. “They created my opportunities — working hard in the corners — and I just crashed the net hard.”
Said Lerchen: “She (Kelly) was on fire today. She is a physical player and a tough skater.”
Kelly capped her four-goal first period by scoring off a Fukuchi feed with 3:46 still left in the opening period. Despite the score, Blades goalie Tess Csejka was solid in goal, making 31 saves for the game.
“We were missing our first-line today and our goalie, but I thought we played a good game after the first period,” Whyte said. “Tess helped keep us in it.”
The visitors’ goal came from Nadia DeNatale, a sophomore forward, with 49 seconds to go in the second period.
Sparked by sisters Jennie and Katie Piotrzkowski, Sydney Orszulak and goalie Jessie Aselin, the Cardinals slowed down the visitors offense. Aselin made 11 saves in the win.
“We all came in here expecting a hard game from them, since they were the fifth-ranked team in the state and we were all excited for this game,” said Aselin, a senior. “The Winter Classic is a game we have been looking forward to all season. We did very well in front, even in hard conditions like this in the snow. Our defense really stepped up.”
“It was really awesome out there,” said Jennie Piotrzkowski, a senior captain. “Playing out there in the snow was surreal and it took some getting used to, but it was a lot of fun. We work really hard and I think it shows on the ice.”