DARIEN — Gunnar Granito has delivered an endless parade of highlights for the New Canaan boys ice hockey team during the past four seasons.
But with the seconds ticking away and the Rams trailing the Greenwich Cardinals in a playoff game on Tuesday, the highlights were fading and the emotions were coming to the forefront.
“There were so many emotions and everything you’ve worked for is riding on this moment,” Granito said. “For me, it sort of hit me right at that last second. If it had ended there, that would have been tough.”
Instead, a pair of Ram seniors helped snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
After Brendan Knightly scored to tie the game with just 11.3 seconds remaining, Granito ended it with a goal 23 seconds into overtime to give New Canaan a dramatic 2-1 win over Greenwich in the first round of the CIAC Div. I Tournament Tuesday night at the Darien Ice House.
The two goals in 34.3 seconds came after the Rams had been unable to break through on their first 27 shots against Greenwich senior goalie Ben Nash. The last two, however, found the mark and allowed New Canaan to survive and advance.
“Going down to those last couple of minutes, everyone’s so nervous,” Granito said. “There’s so many emotions happening at that time. To see Brendan Knightly score that (tying) goal right there — you couldn’t have staged it better. We had such an advantage going into overtime and it showed; we got the goal right away. It was special.”
— NewCanaan Advertiser (@NCAdvertiser) March 6, 2019
No. 7 New Canaan (14-7-1) will now take on No. 2 Northwest Catholic (17-2-1) in the Div. I quarterfinals on Saturday at a site and time to be determined. The two teams met back on Jan. 5, with Northwest Catholic winning in overtime, 3-2.
While New Canaan moves on, Greenwich (11-11-2) goes home after a great postseason during which it knocked off New Canaan and Darien in the FCIAC playoffs and finished as the league runner-up.
Being so close to yet another playoff win made Tuesday’s loss even more difficult to take.
“It’s always tough,” Greenwich head coach Chris Rurak said. “There’s only one team that doesn’t have to have this speech at the end of the year. Kids careers are coming to an end, you can’t sugar-coat it, and there’s nothing I can say to make the feeling go away. But I reminded them of the success they’ve had and the fun they’ve had, and the relationships and bonding they’ve had together. They’ll remember these times for the rest of their lives.”
— NewCanaan Advertiser (@NCAdvertiser) March 6, 2019
Both the Rams and Cards were on point Tuesday, delivering a fast-paced performance which saw each team had several great chances.
After a scoreless first period, New Canaan had the better of play in the second, outshooting the Cards 14-6. It was the Cardinals, however, who scored first when Chris Cataldo found the net with an assist from Thatcher Danielson with 2:28 remaining in the second period.
New Canaan nearly responded a minute later, but Nash came up huge, making two stops during a Ram rush and then throwing his leg out for a spectacular kick save against Granito.
Greenwich had used freshman goalie Charlie Zolin for the first two rounds of the FCIAC playoffs, but went with the senior on Tuesday and he didn’t disappoint.
“He played great,” Rurak said. “We rode (Charlie) Zolin as far as we could — we kept putting him in because he didn’t give me a reason to take him out — and Ben was champing at the bit to get back in. He got his opportunity tonight and he stood on his head and made some amazing saves. I know he’s heartbroken because he’s very competitive and he hates to lose, but he kept us in the game.”
Despite being outshot again in the third period, Greenwich was close to the victory when the Rams pulled goalie Dylan Shane (19 saves) from the net to create a power play with 28.3 seconds remaining. A tripping penalty on Cardinal Julian Ribushofski at the same time created a 6-on-4 advantage for the Rams.
Knightly was the sixth man on the ice.
The senior worked into perfect position in front of the Greenwich net and when junior Justin Wietfeldt unleashed a low shot, Knightly got his stick down and tipped the puck high into the net, tying the score with 11.3 on the clock.
“We were getting a lot of opportunities,” Knightly said. The whole game, we were shooting and peppering the goalie, so we knew it would come eventually. I saw Jack O’Hare go in the corner and he hit it up top to Justin Wietfeldt and when I saw he was going to shoot it, I just placed myself in front of the net and tried to tip it.”
The Rams wasted little time getting the win in overtime, as Granito took a pass from Wietfeldt and back-handed the puck into the Greenwich goal, setting off a wild celebration in front of the New Canaan fans.
PLAYERS OF THE GAME
Brendan Knightly and Gunnar Granito, New Canaan. Goals don’t get bigger than the ones scored by the two seniors on Tuesday. The game will go down as a classic for New Canaan, which keeps its season alive with a state quarterfinal berth.
“We said in the locker room that we were doing this the first shift. We knew we had our best line out there and they could get it done. It was such a feeling of relief. When we saw it went in, everyone just freaked out. — New Canaan senior Brendan Knightly on overtime.