DARIEN—It was a battle of Olympian proportions.
On the stage of the FCIAC Girls Ice Hockey playoff semifinals Wednesday night at the Darien Ice House, the New Canaan High School and Darien High School squads fought through 45 minutes of regulation time, 15 minutes of 5-on-5 overtime and more than 13 minutes of 4-on-4 overtime.
It was freshman Courtney O’Connell who finally sent the captivated capacity crowd home as she scored with 1:29 left in the second overtime to give No. 2 seed New Canaan an unforgettable 3-2 triumph over Darien.
It was O’Connell’s 11th goal of the season and sixth game-winning goal.
“Everyone on the ice was tired. Everybody’s legs were shot,” O’Connell recounted of her shot from the left faceoff circle that found the top corner of the net. “I just threw the puck at the net. Everybody worked so hard and played a part in a great team win.”
The victory means New Canaan (18-3 overall) will meet No. 1 seed Greenwich (17-2-1) for the FCIAC Championship on Saturday. The title game has been moved from Terry Conners rink to Darien Ice House so the starting time Saturday is still to be announced. Greenwich beat No. 4 seed Ridgefield/Danbury, 3-0, in Wednesday’s other semifinal.
It will be the first time in six years that Darien High will not be a part of an FCIAC Championship final. The Blue Wave had won four of the last five FCIAC Girls Ice Hockey crowns.
A SHOWCASE FOR GIRLS ICE HOCKEY
The pace of the 73-minute marathon was thrilling to watch. Darien imposed its physicality on the proceedings to try to wear New Canaan down.
Both goalies were superb. Darien sophomore goalie Hallie Kreppein registered 31 saves including 13 in the first overtime period where the teams played 5-on-5.
New Canaan freshman goalie Blythe Novick was not awed by the playoff stage. She finished with 30 saves — 18 saves in the opening two periods and seven saves in the second overtime period of 4-on-4 skating.
It was the third time this season that Novick defeated Darien (16-4-1 overall).
“Blythe played out of her mind,” New Canaan teammate O’Connell said. “She made so many great saves. She left everything she had on the ice.”
GRITTY COMEBACK BY DARIEN
One of New Canaan’s senior captains Gianna Bruno and freshman Anika Curri scored 1:08 apart from in front to give the Rams a 2-0 edge midway through the first period.
Darien answered with five seconds left in the first period when freshman Kate Bellissimo scored a beautiful goal off a scramble.
Junior Shea Van den Broek forged the 2-2 deadlock by tallying shorthanded with 5:41 left in the second period.
“It was a fabulous hockey game. We had chances. We just couldn’t get the puck to bounce our way,” said Darien’s veteran coach Jamie Tropsa. “The crowd was great. I’m so proud of the way our girls left it all on the ice. I told them to walk out of the arena with their heads held high. We have a lot of hockey left to play (a 12-team bracket for the state tournament). Don’t dwell on this. Just get better from it.”
ANOTHER MEETING WITH GREENWICH
New Canaan has beaten Darien three times this season. Greenwich has topped New Canaan in both of its matchups this year.
“To win a title, you have to beat the best,” New Canaan’s veteran coach Rich Bulin said. “For us, in the FCIAC, that means Darien and Greenwich.”
Greenwich beat New Canaan, 4-1 on January 15 and 2-1 on February 12. Greenwich is defending FCIAC champion after downing Darien in last year’s final.
“We just want another chance to play Greenwich. The last loss was tough,” NC’s O’Connell said. “We’re so excited to play Greenwich again.”
FCIAC PLAYOFF SEMIFINALS
NEW CANAAN 3, DARIEN 2 (2OT)
DARIEN 1 1 0 0 0—2
NEW CANAAN 2 0 0 0 1—3
At Darien Ice House. Records: Darien 16-4-1 overall; New Canaan 18-3.
Goals: D—Kate Bellissimo, Shea Van den Broek (Shorthanded). NC—Gianna Bruno, Anika Curry, Courtney O’Connell. Assists: D—Corinne Bevill 2, Shea Van den Broek. NC—Katherine Reiss, Liz McCarthy. Goalies: D—Hallie Kreppein (31 saves). NC—Blythe Novick (30 saves). Note: Game-winning goal by O’Connell came with 1:29 left in second overtime period.