DARIEN — It may be an understatement, but it’s been a pretty good week for the New Canaan girls ice hockey team.
Five days after shutting out rival Darien in a rematch of last year’s state final, the Rams skated past another FCIAC contender as they defeated Greenwich 4-1 Thursday night at the Darien Ice House.
Quincy Connell scored with 8:20 remaining in the first period to give the Rams a lead they would not relinquish, although Greenwich provided a scare when Sydney Orszulak scored on a power play to make it a one-goal game early in the third.
New Canaan’s Kaleigh Harden answered quickly, however, scoring on a breakaway just 40 seconds later to get back the two-goal cushion for the Rams.
“More than us going ahead 2-0 was how we responded after they made it 2-1,” New Canaan coach Rich Bulan said. “Looking at that, I was very happy with the way they responded. That was a big win.”
The victory boosted the Rams’ record to 7-2 overall and locked up the No. 1 seed for the FCIAC tournament, as New Canaan is 6-0 in official conference play and owns tiebreakers against Darien and Greenwich.
Perhaps more importantly for New Canaan, the result avenged a loss to Greenwich in the Winter Classic at the Greenwich Skating Club by the same 4-1 score on Dec. 28
“Coming in, we really wanted this game and we knew that we had to win because this is a big game for FCIACs,” Harden said. “We did what it takes, we came out on fire, and we got the W. It’s a great feeling.”
Greenwich suffered just its second loss and is now 6-2 overall and 4-2 in the FCIAC.
“They certainly wanted it from the get-go,” Greenwich coach Alex Lerchen said. “We knew they were going to come out hard considering what happened at the Skating Club. They out-worked us tonight, plain and simple.”
The Rams wrapped a pair of two-goal periods around a scoreless second frame to nail down the win.
Connell opened the scoring in the first period when she collected a pass from Jade Lowe, skated to the top of the circle and ripped a shot top shelf for the goal.
A Greenwich penalty gave New Canaan a power play three minutes later, and the Rams cashed in when Maddie Kloud cleaned up with 3:48 remaining in the first. Courtney O’Connell assisted on the goal, which gave New Canaan a 2-0 advantage.
The Rams continued to have the edge in shots during the second period, but Greenwich goalie Jessica Ware (26 saves) and the Cardinals’ defense held off the pressure to keep the deficit at two.
That came up big early in the third stanza when New Canaan was hit with consecutive penalties. Greenwich didn’t score on a 36-second 5-on-3, but broke through during the power play, on a shot from the point by Orszulak. The puck found its way through traffic and inside the far pipe, cutting the Rams’ lead down to 2-1.
New Canaan responded just 40 seconds later, when Harden cut loose on a breakaway and beat Ware to the top corner to regain the two-goal advantage.
“At practice, we’ve been working on breakaways a lot, so I just did what we practice,” Harden said. “That was just curling and focusing on putting it in the net. We work on that a lot in practice and it paid off.”
“I know she’s a great lacrosse and soccer player, but man, is she some hockey player,” Bulan said of Harden. “Her hockey sense is great and she’s such a special athlete.”
Ware came off the ice with 2:39 to play and Harden scored the final goal into the empty net 15 seconds later.
For Greenwich, the game kicks off a tough stretch, which continues with contests against Darien next Thursday, and SCC contender West Haven/Sacred Heart Academy on Jan. 18.
“We’ve played some good hockey so far, we’ve played consistent hockey, and now our schedule gets a little tougher,” Lerchen said. “We’re going to see what we’re really made of in the next few weeks.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Kaleigh Harden, New Canaan. Harden was everywhere against Greenwich, and put the game away with two goals in the third period. Her goal just 40 seconds after Greenwich had scored was a back-breaker for Greenwich.
“Ever since last Saturday (against Darien) it’s like the switch turned. Everybody understands what we have to do. That game made all the difference in our attitude and understanding. These games have been real team-builders for us.” — New Canaan coach Rich Bulan