DARIEN — No matter what the game plan may be for a girls ice hockey team on a given night, there’s one simple fact: As long as you keep the pressure in the other team’s zone, you’re not going to lose many games.
Or, as New Canaan head coach Rich Bulan puts it: “You aren’t going to beat us if we’re down there all night.”
Bulan has plenty be happy about right now, as the Rams continued to play at a high level and rolled to a 3-0 shutout of the Suffield co-op team in the CHSGHA State quarterfinals Saturday night at the Darien Ice House.
The Rams scored just 2:33 after the opening puck drop and added two goals early in the second period en route to the win. New Canaan had a 39-11 advantage in shots and was buzzing around the Wildcats’ net for the entire evening.
“In our recent games, we’ve just been focusing on playing our game and not really worrying about the other team,” senior co-captain Katelyn Sparks said. “It’s different when you play Darien or Greenwich, when you don’t have that mental game going on at the same time. So we were able to play out game and the energy was really good.”
The victory puts the top-seeded Rams (20-1-2) in the state semifinals, where they will square off against No. 5 Simsbury (16-4-1) at 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 6, at The Rinks at Shelton.
Simsbury, which defeated No. 4 Hall/Conard 2-1 in overtime on Saturday, has faced New Canaan twice this season. The Rams won the first meeting, 3-1 at the Darien Ice House on Dec. 11, and the teams then tied 1-1 at the International Skating Center in Simsbury on Feb. 16.
“They’re scrappy,” Bulan said. “We beat them 3-1 here (at the Darien Ice House) because we jumped on them when they just got off the bus. In the second game, we had a lead and they tied it. They’re scrappy and they’ve got a solid goaltender. I’m not surprised they beat Hall/Conard — Simsbury can skate and they’re going to be on you.”
New Canaan, which is 15-0-2 in its last 17 games, was certainly on No. 8 Suffield (10-9-0) from the get-go on Saturday. Two freshmen teamed up for an early tally, with Caitlin Tully setting up Jade Lowe for a 1-0 lead.
“It’s so much more fun to play when you have that lead because all the pressure lifted off of us,” Sparks said of the early goal. “That’s when we play our best.”
Just 35 seconds into the second period, freshman Angelica Megdanis scored with an assist from sophomore Anika Curri.
A minute and a half later, Sparks tipped in a shot by senior co-captain Jess Eccleston for a power play goal to make it 3-0. Freshman Kaleigh Harden assisted on that final goal.
“They’re a good team, they were in the state finals last year,” Bulan said of Suffield. “I know there were some losses this year, but they’re still solid — they’ve got some good players. So it was big to get a lead earlier and then just keep going at them. We like playing ahead.”
New Canaan kept up the pressure, outshooting Suffield 17-2 in the second period and 13-4 in the third, but the Wildcats’ goalie Caitlyn Caldon was solid and collected 36 saves to limit the damage.
On the defensive end, New Canaan sophomore Blythe Novick faced just 11 shots and was perfect to earn the shutout.
Now, the Rams will turn their attention to the semifinals and Simsbury, which is unbeaten in its past seven games (6-0-1).
“They’re a really good team,” Sparks. “We tied them the second game and the odds were kind of stacked against us — we were playing on the olympic rink and we weren’t used to the positioning for that. They’re very good, but we know we can beat them, so we’re going to keep that in our mind.”
“We were flying the whole game; we just kept going at them. It’s nice to have the depth we have, and it’s a great group of girls to work with. Everyone is playing so well.” — New Canaan head coach Rich Bulan.