Years from now, Liam Mathews will fondly recall a specific goal he scored during his junior year as a member of the Greenwich boys ice hockey team.
Mathews surely won’t forget what occurred Thursday night, when he scored a goal that sent the Cardinals into the championship game of the FCIAC Division I Tournament.
A junior forward, Mathews’ goal 44 seconds into overtime lifted third-seeded Greenwich to a thrilling 3-2 win over second-seeded Fairfield co-op in the semifinal-round of the FCIAC Division I Tournament at Wonderland of Ice in Bridgeport.
The surging Cardinals (10-4), who are riding a five-game winning streak, will play fourth-seeded New Canaan in Saturday’s 4:45 p.m. FCIAC Division I final at Dorothy Hamill Skating Rink – Greenwich’s home ice.
“That’s going to be a big game, the finals are going to be awesome,” said Mathews, one of the Cardinals’ leading goal scorers this season. “We are going to bring our all and try to bring it home.”
On the game-winning goal, Greenwich senior forward Thatcher Danielson passed the puck up the ice to Matthews, who found himself open on the left wing and finished the play with a shot he won’t forget.
“They had it in our zone, but Thatcher Danielson got the puck, gave me a nice pass all the way down the ice I took it wide and I threw it at the goalie and it somehow went in,” Mathews said. “That goal was a team effort. The breakout in hockey is everything and that’s what resulted in the goal.”
The combined Fairfield Ludlowe-Warde squad received two goals from senior center Rhys Davies and 23 saves from senior goalie John Grace. Thursday night’s victory marked the third time in six days that Greenwich defeated Fairfield co-op. They topped Fairfield last Friday, 4-0, then defeated them on Saturday, 5-2.
“Beating that team three times in one week is difficult, they’re a great team,” Greenwich coach Jack Duffy said. “We had a tough second period, then a really good third period. To come out in overtime and score a goal early was the end of a great game.”
Greenwich’s coach enjoyed watching the spirit his squad displayed throughout the intense matchup.
“The boys played their hearts out the whole game and it took more than 45 minutes tonight to eventually get it done,” Duffy said.
The Cardinals seemed primed to win the matchup in regulation, but Fairfield tied the score with just 2:27 remaining in the third period. On a power play following a Greenwich roughing penalty, Fairfield capitalized with senior forward Davies converting a shot off assists from sophomore Noah Kingsley and Brendan Carney.
“We had the momentum, we tied the game with only two minutes left,” Fairfield coach Carl Larouche said. “We thought we would win in overtime, but things went differently.”
Cardinals junior netminder Charlie Zolin registered 31 saves in the winning effort, making some big stops off deflections and rebounds.
“We knew that Zolin was a good goalie and our plan was to put the puck on net, screen the goalie and to go for rebounds and that’s exactly what we did,” Larouche said. “I was very happy with our team’s play.”
Greenwich, which last won the FCIAC title in 2016, took a 2-1 edge when junior forward Wesley Zolin tallied with 5:11 left in the third period. Controlling the puck along the boards while avoiding a Fairfield defenseman, Zolin made a quick move, then went top shelf with his snap shot from the right face-off circle, giving the Cards a one-goal lead with the power play tally. Mathews and senior defenseman Ben Bates were credited with assists on Zolin’s impressive tally.
“We knew what we had to do to get the win tonight, we had to set the pace and play with a sense of urgency, because that’s what it takes to win,” said Zolin, who has helped spark the Cardinals offensively throughout the season. “It’s all about effort and hard work and we showed it tonight.”
Jack Hutchins, a senior forward, gave the Cardinals a 1-0 advantage with an unassisted goal off a breakout at the 11:04 mark of the first period. Fairfield had numerous chances to score the equalizer, but were denied by Zolin in goal. Fairfield senior defenseman Sam Swanson tested Zolin several times with shots from near the blue line, but Zolin was up to the task. In the second period, Fairfield knotted the score at 1-1 courtesy of a power play goal. Davies tallied on a deflection off a shot from sophomore Charlie Swanson with 8:39 left in the second period.
Fairfield was playing for its first-ever appearance in the tournament final.
“Coming into the year, we knew how strong we were going to be,” Fairfield junior Finn Hoey said. “We came in tonight and worked hard the whole game. The outcome was unfortunate for us, but I loved every part of this season. Greenwich is a very good team and I couldn’t have asked for more effort from our team.”
Up next for Greenwich is another team they will look to beat for a third time this season. The Cards notched 1-0 and 3-2 victories against New Canaan during the regular season.
“The same theme, we have to beat a team for the third time this year it’s going to be tough,” Duffy said. “The good thing is we got a home game and the boys are ready to go.”
Peter Lewis, Shea Madden, Bates and Chris Cataldo paced Greenwich’s effective defensive play, while defensemen Sam Swanson and Noah Kingsley led Fairfield’s effort.
“Making it to the finals is great, it’s been such a hard year and we’ve dealt with so much adversity,” Wesley Zolin said. “We’ve become such a close group and I’m so happy to be moving to the finals with these guys.”
Indeed, Thursday’s game-winner was Mathews’ biggest goal to date.
“That was electric that was the best one for sure,” Mathews said. “I’ll always remember that and when I have family and kids, I’ll tell them about it someday. I saw the puck hit the goalie’s shoulder and trickle in then I saw Sean Duffy and my other teammates come right at me. It was amazing.”