DARIEN — For two girls ice hockey teams who play in different conferences and who’s schools are more than 80 miles apart, New Canaan and Simsbury have become quite familiar with each other over the years.
And the two teams never disappoint.
Sofia Marcktell scored with 13:57 remaining as Simsbury knocked off defending FCIAC and state champion New Canaan, 3-2, in the season-opener for both teams Tuesday night at the Darien Ice House.
New Canaan and Simsbury had squared off three times last season, resulting in one tie and two Ram victories, including a 3-1 decision in the state semifinals.
Getting a solid win against a top opponent is a great start for Simsbury.
“It was really big,” Simsbury coach Paul Melanson said. “That’s a game that could go either way. It was back-and-forth and I was very impressed. That’s a really good New Canaan team and to be able to compete with them and come out on top is really great for our girls.”
The Rams, who are dealing with several injuries, including one to starting defenseman McKenna Harden, impressed their coach with their energy and fight.
“We’re very scrappy and I still love our makeup and the way we do things,” New Canaan coach Rich Bulan said. “We’ve got to find a way, even with our injuries, to get a third line out there to get us a bit of a break. But overall, I loved the effort and the energy. We know what we have to do.”
The Trojans received a big game from sophomore goalie Kaitlyn O’Brien, who entered for junior Tori LaCroix during the second period and stopped all 10 shots she faced. LaCroix faced 11 shots and made 9 saves.
Both goalies are returning varsity players who saw plenty of ice time last year.
“I have two great goalies who, on any given day, one can outperform the other,” Melanson said. “Last year, I alternated games with them and at the end I had to pick one goalie, and I see this year being the same thing. They’re two great goalies and I trust both of them. They’re competing with each other but also supporting each other to be better. They both had great games tonight.”
Simsbury outshot New Canaan 26-21 overall and Rams’ junior goalie Blythe Novick, a returning All-State player, made 23 saves.
The Rams netted the only goal of the first period when sophomore Marina Mallozzi sent the puck at the net and sophomore Maddie Kloud stuffed it inside the left pipe.
New Canaan overcame three penalties in the first period, but a fourth penalty midway through the second stanza led to a power play goal by Simsbury’s Mackenzie Chapman.
New Canaan regained the lead at 2-1 less than two minutes later, when freshman defenseman Amanda Benson skated out of the defensive zone, sliced into the right circle and fired a laser to the far corner.
“She did that in the alumni game and people were asking who she was,” Bulan said. “She can really play and she picks her spots. She’s smart with it and she’s only going to get better.
The Rams’ 2-1 advantage did not last long, as Simsbury’s Molly Walsh scored with an assist from Anna Kahl with 4:31 to play in the period.
The teams carried the 2-2 tie into the third period before Marcktell’s goal, with assists from Abigail Harris and Kahl early in the third then put Simsbury ahead for good.
The rams had chances down the stretch, outshooting the Trojans 9-7 in the final frame, but O’Brien and the Simsbury defense held off the prssure to secure the win.
Both coaches said they preferred facing a competitive opponent immediately, rather than easing into the season.
“I could schedule a weaker team, but the reality is, I like to throw them right into the deep end,” Melanson said. “We’ve been doing this for a while and it helps because now I can see where we need to improve and who can compete at that level.”
“I love having a game like this,” Bulan said. “It sets a tone. One, we show ourselves we can play, even with the injuries. And it also brings out the fact that we have to get ourselves in get better shape and shows us what we need to work on. I’m proud of the overall effort. They came out and they worked hard.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Kaitlyn O’Brien, Simsbury. The Trojans’ sophomore goalie entered the game in the second period and was perfect. making 10 saves against 10 New Canaan shots.
“Our girls worked hard and they’re excited. They know the reputations of the New Canaans and the Dariens and those are the elite teams in the state who we love to compete against.” – Simsbury coach Paul Melanson