STAMFORD — There are precious few easy nights in the FCIAC boys hockey.
The margin for victory can be a bad hop of the puck here, a ringing shot off the post there.
And at the end of a gritty 45-minute battle, there can be only one team that goes home rewarded.
The Greenwich and Westhill-Stamford Co-op engaged in a contentious contest Friday night at Conners Rink with GHS emerging with a 3-1 triumph.
For Greenwich, which will spend the rest of the weekend at a tournament in Rhode Island, it was its seventh straight victory.
“It wasn’t our best game,” said Greenwich coach Chris Rurak. “But the key was that we found a way to win. Good teams play. Great teams find a way to win.”
The players on both sides were a bit mouthy and hard-hitting along the boards throughout. A short scrum at the final buzzer was quickly diffused.
However, at least two parents got into an altercation in the Conners Rink parking lot. Stamford police arrived at the scene and restored order.
Entering the evening ranked No. 8 in Division I in the state, Greenwich (8-4, 5-0 atop the FCIAC West Division) has found its groove while playing one of the most challenging schedules.
“We played a gritty game. We saw some scary moments but we battled through,” said Greenwich sophomore goalie Charlie Zolin. “We played our butts off. We understand that everybody wants to beat Greenwich hockey. We know they circle our game on the calendar when the schedules come out. We take it as a compliment to us.”
What Greenwich does have on the ice is the ability to roll four forward lines. Although the Cardinals have just four seniors on their roster, they are able to wear down opponents.
“Our depth does show up,” Rurak said. “Our third periods have been our best periods all season. Most teams have two forward lines. We use our fresh legs to pull away.”
After killing off a 5-on-3 situation for two full minutes early in the period, Ryan Columbo converted his own rebound with 3:10 left in the first period for a 1-0 GHS edge.
Greenwich killed off a 5-on-3 situation for 1:02 late in the second period. Zolin registered 13 of his 21 saves in the period to keep it at 1-0.
The Cardinals’ fresh legs struck with 12:33 to go. John Hutchins scored shorthanded just 20 seconds into another GHS penalty for 2-0.
Westhill-Stamford, which entered the night ranked at No. 9 in Division II in the state and was coming off three tough losses to Ridgefield, Darien and Division II leader Branford, finally cashed in with 8:40 to play.
Hunter Gilchrist scored off a beautiful feed from Gavin Dolan for 2-1. Dolan then rang the right post with 4:37 to go.
Westhill-Stamford pulled freshman goalie Eric Osterhus (24 saves) for a sixth attacker with 1:24 to go. Hutchins ended the drama with an empty net tally with 21.2 seconds left for the 3-1 final.
“We have a winning mentally. The coaching staff emphasizes mental toughness,” said Zolin, who shares the goalkeeping duties with senior Ben Nash. “We are grinding out big wins on a strong schedule. Outsiders said we had a rough start (losses to New Canaan, Xavier, Darien, ND-West Haven in opening five games). Now we are able to finish.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
John Hutchins, Greenwich. The junior forward scored shorthanded and into an empty net in the third period to secure the victory for the Cardinals.
“It was another game against a top team where I think we outshot them. These are losses that I hope prepares us for March (Division II state playoffs),” Westhill-Stamford coach John Santagata said. “We had a lot of offensive opportunities (but 0-for-5 on power play). We miss (senior forward) Eddie Zelikman (upper-body injury). The kids are skating their tails off. We just have to start finding a way to win these close games.”