Two-time defending FCIAC girls hockey champion Greenwich concluded its regular season with eight wins in its last nine games, with the one loss coming against Darien.
Now the Cardinals shift their attention toward producing another memorable postseason, but the team that’s been their nemesis this winter is standing in their way.
Greenwich, which is 0-2 against rival Darien so far this season, gets another opportunity against the Blue Wave, as the squads will face-off in the semifinal-round of the FCIAC Tournament Wednesday at 7:40 p.m.
Both teams enter the semifinals, which will be held at Darien Ice House, with momentum on their side. Since starting its season the Blue Wave haven’t lost, going 12-0-1 in their last 13 matchups.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, are 8-1 over their last nine games, including an 8-1 victory over Wilton/Norwalk Sunday night at Dorothy Hamill Skating Rink — a matchup that saw eight different players score goals.
So, indeed, something has to give when the Blue Wave and Cardinals meet for the third time this season on Wednesday.
“I feel pretty confident we can make some noise in the tournament,” said GHS coach Alex Lerchen, who guided Greenwich to the FCIAC title the past two seasons. “We just have to figure out how to get one by them, we haven’t scored against them. We’ve been shut out twice, but the scores haven’t been outrageous at all – 2-0, 1-0.”
In the team’s first meeting at Darien Ice House on Jan. 12, the Blue Wave skated past Greenwich, 2-0, with sophomore forwards Kate Bellissimo and Olivia Toscano scoring a goal each. Junior Hallie Kreppein was outstanding in goal, keeping the Cardinals off the scoreboard.
The Cardinals couldn’t solve Kreppein again when Darien posted a 1-0 victory at Dorothy Hamill Skating Rink on Feb. 9. Sophomore forward Kelly Raymond notched the game-winning goal for the Blue Wave.
Cardinals captains Jennifer Kelly, Paige Finneran, Grace Fahey and Hayley Duffy have each been on the squad’s past two championship teams and have dueled against Darien numerous times.
“It’s the small things that matter in a game like this,” said Kelly, a senior forward. “We are pretty even if you match us up roster for roster. It comes down to who gets the lucky bounce and who stays out of the penalty box.”
Starting strong, is of course, crucial for both squads.
“We have to come out 10 times harder than any other game,” said Finneran, also a senior forward. “Darien is really good at keeping the puck in, coming out really strong and applying good pressure. It’s important that we come out with a completely different mindset, like it’s our last game.”
Other than its games against Darien, scoring hasn’t been an issue for Greenwich, which has averaged more than five goals per game over its last eight victories. As was the case against Wilton/Norwalk on Sunday, the Cardinals have displayed their offensive depth the majority of the season.
“Since the beginning of the season, we have gotten a lot better in our offensive zone, we’ve learned to pass the puck much better,” said Fahey, a senior forward. “Our transition looks better and we are passing the puck across the ice better.”
Greenwich defeated Darien for the FCIAC title in 2017 and beat New Canaan in the championship game in 2018.
“It would be good for us and the future of the program if we got a win,” Fahey said. “There’s a lot of demand on this team and I think it’s going to be a really good game. We have to keep the puck out of the net and we can’t take any shifts off.”
Since early in the season, Greenwich has also tightened up its defensive play in front of sophomore goalie Hannah Goldenberg. Duffy, who played up front the previous three seasons, has made a smooth transition to the blue line.
“I played defense with my travel hockey team back when I played for the Greenwich Wings, so it was fun getting back to it, after being a forward the past three years,” Duffy said. “I have great defensive partners and it’s been an awesome experience. We have gotten a lot better as the season has gone on.”
Top-seeded New Canaan plays fourth-seeded Fairfield in the other conference semifinal on Wednesday. The semifinal-round winners play in Saturday’s championship game at Darien Ice House.
“We are very determined, we want another year up on our banner,” Duffy said. “We’re the first group that has been a part of three championships and we want to get a third one.”
Kelly registered one goal and one assist in Greenwich’s triumph against Wilton/Norwalk on Sunday. The Cardinals held a 4-1 lead after the first period on goals from Lily Bates, Finneran, Kelly and Sydney Orszulak. Wilton’s goal was scored by Caitlyn Hocker.
Nicole Huber tallied in the second period and GHS teammates Lucy Fulton, Lexi Danielson and Riley Geary had third-period goals.
“Our offense and forecheck is thriving,” Kelly said.
“It’s something that teams struggle with and it’s something we constantly strive to be better on.”