Ahead by one goal late in the first period, the Greenwich High School girls ice hockey team received exactly the type of start it was hoping for in Thursday’s FCIAC Tournament semifinal-round showdown against rival Darien.
Yet the tide can turn quickly in a fast-paced sport like hockey and a 16-second span gave the Blue Wave a wave of momentum it wouldn’t relinquish.
Tallying twice in the final minute of the first period gave top-seeded Darien a lead it built upon on its way to recording a 4-2 triumph over fourth-seeded Greenwich at Darien Ice House. The defending FCIAC champion Blue Wave advanced to Saturday’s FCIAC Tournament’s championship game, where they will face second-seeded rival New Canaan.
“We’re really excited, we’ve worked hard all year and it’s good that it’s finally paying off,” Darien senior forward Kate Bellissimo said. “This team has given so much, especially with COVID, we’ve faced so many obstacles and just seeing us make some progress is really great.”
Darien (9-2-1) held a 46-15 shots-on-goal against Greenwich, which saw senior goalie Hannah Goldenberg make 42 saves. The Cardinals, who skated to a 1-1 tie against the Blue Wave last week, after dropping a 7-1 decision on March 3, ended their season with a record of 7-5-2.
“We went out there, gave it our all and battled to the last buzzer,” said Greenwich senior defender Delaney Roth, one of the team’s captains. “I’m proud of how we played. We showed a lot of heart and left it all out there.”
Coached by Jamie Tropsa, Darien was paced by sophomore Kelsey Brown, who tallied one goal and one assist. The victors, who led 2-1 after two periods of play, received one goal apiece from sophomore Gretchen Edwards, Chelsea Donovan and senior Kelly Raymond
“We were pretty upset last time with how we played against Greenwich, I don’t think everyone played as well as they could,” said senior Nellie Kniffin, who registered an assist. “But today, we wanted to play faster and a lot harder. When we were down 1-0, it was kind of upsetting, but I think everyone did pretty well coming back from that and encouraging each other. That definitely helped us find success.”
Shortly after Goldenberg made a glove save off a snap shot from Kniffin from the point, the Cardinals took a 1-0 edge. With Greenwich on a 2-on-1 rush, sophomore forward Caroline Lawrence slid the puck to junior linemate Lexi Danielson, who from between the circles, directed a shot past Darien junior goalie Claire Haupt, making it 1-0 with 7:49 remaining in the first period.
Goldenberg, who posted 12 first-period saves, kept the Cards in front, until Darien’s quick spurt late in the first period. Positioned near the post, Edwards received a pass from Brown and put a one-timer by Goldenberg, evening the score at 1-1 with 1:56 left in the opening period. After Darien controlled the puck on the ensuing faceoff, Donovan tallied off a rebound at the 1:40 mark, giving the home team the lead for good at 2-1. Kniffin and Bellissimo, who made their presence felt in Greenwich’s zone throughout, assisted on the go-ahead goal.
“One thing this team does not lack is heart and you can see that in those 16 seconds,” Bellissimo said. “Those girls as soon as we went down a goal, no heads went down.”
Indeed, Greenwich wishes it had those 16 seconds back.
“We had a strong start and then we had a lapse and they put two in the back door,” said Greenwich coach Alex Lerchen, who led the Cardinals to the FCIAC title in 2017 and 2018. “We talked about picking up coverage in front and not puck watching, because that’s what can happen. You have to clear the puck out in front.”
Goldenberg was kept especially busy a second period in which she made 21 saves. She was tested with shots from Donovan, Kniffin, Raymond, Edwards and Bellissimo, but kept it a one-goal game in the second period.
“Hannah was always a solid goalie, but she really picked it up this year,” Lerchen said. “She had a great year, we’ve been lucky to have the goalies we’ve had over the years.”
Added Goldenberg, one of the Cardinals’ senior captains: “We played really well, but there were times they we weren’t playing our best and they capitalized on that. It was a good experience, we had a really great season and it was easy to be captain of this group. We improved a lot over the season, so that was really good and everyone was doing their best and was staying positive.”
Gathering a loose puck close to the net, Brown tallied with 12:17 to go in the third period, putting Darien on top, 3-1. Raymond scored at the 9:59 mark off an assist from senior Olivia Toscano.
“Jamie (Tropsa) tells us to be aggressive, do what you can to get the puck back and I think everyone is taking that to heart and everyone is giving it their all and getting shots on net,” Bellissimo said. “They have a great goalie, so props to them, but I think we gave them a lot of shots.”
Lawrence helped keep Greenwich in the game by getting loose on a breakaway and beating Haupt with a shot to her stick side, cutting Darien’s advantage to 4-2 with 9:24 left to play. The Blue Wave, however, made the Cardinals play a lot of defense thereafter.
“They are a really deep team and they are always on you,” Roth said of Darien. “They don’t give you a lot of time and space with the puck.”
Darien is eagerly anticipating its matchup against New Canaan, in what will be a rematch of the 2020 conference final. New Canaan has beaten Darien twice this season.
“Everybody is really excited, there is a lot to make up for,” Kniffin said. “We lost twice in a row, which is a heartbreaker, but I think everyone is super pumped to show what we have.”
The loss marked the final game of the varsity careers of Roth, senior quad-captain Riley Geary, Goldenberg and senior quad-captain Emiri Fukuchi.
“I loved every minute I’ve been in this program from freshman year to a captain this year,” Roth said. “It’s been amazing amazing to have led a group of amazing girls.”
Added Lerchen: “I’m proud of the team. they worked, had fun and it was nice to see them come together as a team.”