GREENWICH — A decisive victory against a conference rival in a much-anticipated game played outdoors — indeed, the Greenwich High School boys hockey team couldn’t have scripted a better way to conclude 2018.
Hundreds of fans gathered along the boards and every area of Greenwich Skating Club Saturday night, as FCIAC foes Greenwich and Darien dueled in the second annual Winter Classic.
And like last year, the Cardinals claimed the Winter Classic winner’s trophy.
Tallying twice in the second period, before adding a goal in the third, Greenwich skated to an impressive 3-0 win over Darien, before a packed house at Greenwich Skating Club.
The Cardinals received goals from freshman Wesley Zolin, senior Matt Davey and sophomore Thatcher Danielson and 22 saves from junior goalie Ben Nash in the second annual Winter Classic.
“It was a decisive showing, we’re still trying to figure out what we have in terms of chemistry and seeing what we have, overall,” GHS coach Chris Rurak said. “We focused on keeping it simple today and once we did that, the game turned our way.”
Senior goalie Henri Pfeifle made 21 saves for the Blue Wave, who were edged by the Cardinals, 4-3, in last season’s Winter Classic.
“For the balance of the game they (Greenwich) played with more intensity than we did,” Darien coach Mac Budd said. “They had a couple of good looks and made the most of their opportunities. They created some good opportunities, some odd-man rushes.”
Following a scoreless first period, both teams picked up the pace in the second period. Putting pressure on the Blue Wave the Cardinals took a 1-0 lead with 11:25 to go in the second period. Davey, a forward, snapped a shot from the right faceoff circle that deflected off Pfeifle’s pads. Positioned at the left circle, Zolin gathered the puck off the rebound and quickly wristed a one-timer past Pfeifle, giving Greenwich a 1-0 edge. The tally marked Zolin’s first career goal.
“Playing in this atmosphere was exciting,” said Zolin, a forward. “As soon as I saw the crowd I had some butterflies, but once I got through that first shift, I settled down. On this small ice, we stuck to our system and kept it simple and that’s how we came out with the win.”
The Cardinals extended their lead at the 4:35 mark of the second period. Skating down the left wing, Zolin slid the puck to Davey, who finished the 2-on-1 rush with a one-timer from close in, putting Greenwich ahead, 2-0.
Rurak was impressed with the momentum-boost Zolin gave the Cardinals.
“Zolin was a nice surprise,” Rurak said. “He is a very gritty player and is tenacious. He gets to the puck and has good hockey sense. For a freshman to play alongside Davey and (Sean) Pratley is a delight. He is playing well and is getting rewarded with ice time.”
Pfeifle made 12 saves during the second period, while Nash stopped seven shots. Nash was tested by shots from Darien sophomore forwards Sam Erickson and Jamison Moore during the second period, but held the Blue Wave off the scoreboard.
“They were ranked above us before this game awesome to come out and beat them,” Nash said. “It’s a huge momentum boost. We are rolling and ready to go.”
Greenwich was paced defensively by senior Nic Pelletier-Martinelli, senior Dylan Madden, Ryan Columbo (junior) Isaac Cadigan (senior) and senior Andrew Frost.
“Our defense was huge,” Nash said. “On smaller ice, the game is more physical game and our defensemen did a good job of moving bodies as usual.”
A scoreless first period saw Darien outshoot Greenwich, 8-4, both teams kill penalties. Senior defenseman Matthew Stein and sophomore forward Danny Lowe had each put the puck on net during the opening period for Darien.
“The first period was expected for this type of game,,” Budd said. “It was a great day and everyone was looking forward to it and excited to get out and play. The first period was choppy, I don’t think anyone had great opportunities, but I was not unhappy with our play.”
The Blue Wave went on a power play when the Cardinals were whistled for a hooking penalty with 9:24 left in the first period. A second Greenwich penalty gave Darien a 5-on-3 advantage for 22 seconds, but the Cardinals kept the game scoreless.
Nash made eight saves in the first period for Greenwich, which had a two-minute power play opportunity when Darien was charged with a tripping penalty at the 3:05 mark of the opening period.
Greenwich opened a 3-0 lead with the Blue Wave on a power play.
Danielson blocked a Blue Wave pass in the Cards’ zone, skated all alone down the left wing and beat Pheifle to his glove side, making it 3-0 with 11:44 remaining in the final period.
After the Cardinals’ short-handed tally, Darien created several scoring opportunities, but Nash stood strong in goal, capping his shutout.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Nash was clutch in goal for the Cards, turning away shots from all angles.
“Ben Nash was solid as always,” Rurak said. “It’s really reassuring to know he is back there always in position to make saves. He does exactly what you expect the best goalie in the state to do.”
MAKING HIS RETURN
Pellettier-Martinelli made his first appearance after missing the Cardinals’ first two games of the season. He was playing junior hockey, but opted to return to his high school squad.
“I felt like my senior year I didn’t want to give up playing on the team with my high school buddies,” Pelletier-Martinelli said. “I want to help the team get back to where we were last year (state finals) and win this time.”
“Hats off Greenwich, they are a good team,” Budd said. “A lot of players in their locker room have experience. We know we are going to have to go through them at another point of the season to get to where we want to go and we look to it.”
“The Winter Classic is an unforgettable experience,” Nash said. “It’s one of the best hockey experiences I’ve had in my life. Seeing the whole hockey community come out is incredible.”
Greenwich plays Hamden at Dorothy Hamill Skating Rink on Wednesday. Darien, meanwhile, plays Notre Dame-West Haven at Bennett Rink Wednesday.
“Darien and Hamden are two statement games,” Rurak said. “We got the first one, now we are looking forward to the next one.”
GREENWICH 3, DARIEN 0
DARIEN 0 0 0 – 0
GREENWICH 0 2 1 – 3
Records: Darien 2-2; Greenwich 2-0-1; Goals: Wesley Zolin, Matt Davey, Thatcher Danielson; Assists: G – Davey, Zolin; Goalies: D – Henri Pfeifle (21 saves); G – Ben Nash (22 saves).