It’s usually tough to beat a team three times in one season and it’s oftentimes even more difficult to defeat a defending champion in a postseason game — especially a squad that’s won multiple titles.
Such was the scenario when two-time defending champion Greenwich and Darien dueled in Thursday night’s FCIAC Tournament semifinal before a big crowd at Darien Ice Palace.
Beaten by Darien twice this season, Greenwich was on the brink of elimination, as it faced a two-goal deficit with under three minutes remaining in third period. Yet defending champions usually don’t bow out easily and the Cardinals showed they still had plenty of hockey left in them.
Senior forward Jennifer Kelly scored two late third-period goals, setting the stage for freshman defender Tess Marciano, who converted a shot the Cardinals will long remember.
Marciano’s goal with 4:59 left in overtime, lifted third-seeded Greenwich to a dramatic 4-3 comeback win over second-seeded Darien in FCIAC semifinals. The Cardinals (15-5), who have skated away with the conference title the past two seasons, advanced to Saturday’s 4 p.m. championship game, where they will face top-seeded New Canaan at Darien Ice Palace.
On the game-winning goal, Marciano received the puck off a pass at the blue line, cut left, found open ice and skated down the left wing near the boards. Avoiding a defender, she carried the puck into the left face-off circle and lifted a shot that zoomed past the glove of Blue Wave junior goalie Hallie Kreppein and settled inside the right post.
“It was all going very fast, I got the puck and then I just saw no one was up the ice and I just went for it,” said Marciano, whose other goal this season came against New Canaan. “I shot it from a very hard angle to shoot from, I was very close to the net. It feels really good, it hasn’t fazed me yet, but this feels really good right now.”
The victory was the Cardinals’ first against the Blue Wave since they beat them in the 2017 FCIAC championship game. Since then, Darien had gone 3-0-1 against Greenwich, including victories of 2-0 and 1-0 during the regular season. The Blue Wave, who received goals from junior Kate Droogan, sophomore Lucie Edwards and freshman Ceci Stein, were on the verge of keeping their unbeaten streak against the Cardinals and moving on to the title game, as they held a 3-1 third-period advantage. As exciting as the triumph was for GHS, that’s how disappointing the loss was for Darien (15-4-1). The defeat was Darien’s first since Jan. 5 and snapped its 12-0-1 streak.
“We just stopped moving our feet and started playing with a little bit of a panic and we can’t do that,” Darien coach Jamie Tropsa said. “You have to want the puck and we were shying away from the puck and they beat us to the races. As a result, they got a couple of good scoring opportunities and they took advantage of them. In the third period, we played well until the last two minutes.”
Staring at a 3-1 deficit late in the third period, time was running out on Greenwich to make a comeback. Kelly gave the Cards hope, going top shelf with a wrist shot from the right face-off circle with 2:28 to go in the third period. Setting Kelly up for the goal was junior defender Katie Piotrzkowski, who moved the puck to one of the Cardinals’ leading scorers.
“At 3-1 we never got down on ourselves and we just kept playing our type of hockey,” Kelly said. “We forechecked hard and put a ton of pressure on them.”
Still, Darien was less than one minute away from making it to the title game against New Canaan. With Greenwich the pressure on Darien in the Blue Wave’s zone, Kelly scored a rebound goal — knocking the puck past Kreppein, who blocked the initial shot from GHS junior defender Sydney Orszulak with her pads. Kelly’s equalizer occurred with just 33.1 seconds remaining in regulation.
“To tie it up, we knew we had to puck a lot of pucks on net,” Kelly said. “I am so proud of our team, we are determined to defend our title, after winning back-to-back years. We have a short bench, but a ton of heart.”
Both squads had several opportunities during overtime, but Cardinals sophomore goalie Hannah Goldenberg and Kreppein were up to the task, keeping the score knotted, until Marciano tallied.
“When it was 3-1, it was either roll over, or let’s try to tack one and the girls deserve a lot of credit for not giving up,” GHS coach Alex Lerchen said.
The Cardinals and Blue Wave entered the third period embroiled in a 1-1 tie, but the home team took the lead and seized the momentum with 11:14 left to play. Positioned at the left post, Edwards tipped the puck home on a rebound off a shot from sophomore forward Kelly Raymond, making it 2-1.
The situation become even more exciting for Darien when Stein, a defender, tallied at the 7:20 mark. Her snap shot from just above the left circle beat Goldenberg to her glove side, putting Darien in front, 3-1. Darien received two goals from defenders.
“We tried to get them involved in the offense as much as possible and they’ve done a pretty good job all year,” said Tropsa, whose squad lost to New Canaan in overtime of the FCIAC semifinals last winter. “With a 3-1 lead, we allowed Greenwich to beat us to loose pucks and they earned those two goals there at the end.”
Droogan scored the game’s first goal, tallying at the 3:30 mark of the opening period. Raymond was credited with the assist on the goal. Down 1-0, GHS knotted the score when junior forward Emma Wingrove scored with 10:21 left in the second period off a pass from senior forward Paige Finneran.
The goal marked the first time Greenwich had tallied against Kreppein this season.
“That first goal was huge,” Wingrove said. “Obviously, we were a little nervous, because we hadn’t scored a goal on Hallie yet, but that first goal was huge for us, it got our momentum going and it really boosted our confidence.”
Said Lerchen: “It was huge, a big monkey off our back to score off Hallie, she is a heck of a goalie. “We just kept applying pressure and tried to get bodies and pucks to the net.”
PLAYERS OF THE GAME
Kelly was all over the ice and seemed to have a refuse-to-lose mentality.
“I’d say, that was her best game of the season,” Lerchen said.
Besides being solid on the blue line, Marciano’s game-winner propelled the Cards into the finals.
“The season has been so much fun,” Marciano said. “From the beginning of the year when I first met the girls, I felt a connection. They were all super nice and welcoming.”
“We lost in this game to New Canaan in double overtime I believe, so this is another tough one for us,” Tropsa said. “But we’ll regroup and see what we can do at states.”
Said Wingrove: “It was crazy, it was a roller-coaster and I can’t believe we came out with the win,” Wingrove said. “But we really worked hard for it. We’re excited to go for a three-peat.”