After defeating Fairfield Co-Op for a third time this season to advance to the championship game of the FCIAC Division I Boys Ice Hockey Tournament, Greenwich needed to post victory No. 3 against New Canaan to finish its 2021 campaign with a title.
Yet a third win against the Rams this season wasn’t in the Cards on Saturday.
And Rams senior forward Jack Johnson had a lot to do with that.
Johnson recorded a hat trick, igniting fourth-seeded New Canaan to a 3-1 win over third-seeded Greenwich in the FCIAC Division I final held at Dorothy Hamill Skating Rink. The high-scoring Johnson tallied the game-winning goal in overtime for New Canaan in its victory over Darien in the Division I Tournament semifinals on Thursday.
“Jack scored our last four goals, he’s been amazing,” New Canaan coach Clark Jones said. “He has not only done an amazing job on the ice, he has also been a tremendous leader for the team – the voice of the team.”
Jack Johnson’s brother Beau, a sophomore goalie, was the MVP of the FCIAC Tournament last season and Saturday, Jack was named the Division I tourney’s Most Valuable Player.
“It’s so special winning back-to-back championships with my brother,” Jack Johnson said. “Beau is an amazing player. He had a great game.”
Greenwich (10-5), which entered the title matchup riding a five-game winning streak, was looking for its third victory against New Canaan this season. The Cardinals, who last won the FCIAC championship in 2016, posted 1-0 and 3-2 victories against the Rams during the regular season. Greenwich has won 11 FCIAC titles overall.
“We talked to the kids from the first day about overcoming adversity and they did,” said Greenwich coach Jack Duffy, who concluded his first season at the helm. “We talked to them between periods about it because we had some adversity in this game. I’m proud of how they behaved and how they worked. To be here in this game was a big accomplishment.”
The Cardinals faced adversity before the season began when their beloved coach Chris Rurak died in July at the age of 47.
“It was tough for all of us losing our coach and coach Duffy did a good job of bringing us all together,” said Cardinals defenseman Chris Cataldo, one of the team’s senior captains. “We dedicated this season to coach Rurak and we hope we made him proud.”
New Canaan took a 1-0 lead into the second period, then began the third period with a 3-1 advantage. Trailing 1-0, the Cardinals tied the score at 1-1 when sophomore defenseman Peter Lewis snapped a shot from just below the blue line on the right side, past Beau Johnson with 12:41 remaining in the second period. Junior forward Wesley Zolin assisted on Lewis’ tally, which came with Greenwich on a power play.
The score didn’t remain tied for long, however. Just 24 seconds later, an open Jack Johnson finished in front at the right post, after receiving a pass from sophomore defenseman Luc Lampert, putting the Rams in front, 2-1.
“It was big it was a shift of momentum and it gave us the momentum right back,” Rams senior forward/quad-captain Sam Ives said of Johnson’s go-ahead goal. “Jack played awesome and was unbelievable today. He was our star.”
Ives said the Rams were intent on starting the championship game especially strong.
“The key was to just coming out fast,” Ives said. “We all knew what we the talent and everything else to do it. We had a lot of momentum going into this game, with wins off Ridgefield and Darien. So we had to play smart to our game, play physical right off the bat and it all worked out.”
In one of the game’s most significant plays, Johnson completed his hat trick, tallying off a rush with just two seconds remaining in the second period, giving New Canaan a 3-1 lead. Senior defenseman Boden Gammill, also one of the Rams’ captains, set up Johnson’s third goal.
“I saw Gamill near the wall and I looked up and there were six seconds left,” Jack Johnson said. “I screamed for the puck and just tried to get down the ice as fast as I could. Then I made a little play to the outside, ripped it and I was real happy it went in. That was a big goal, because it furthered our momentum going into the third.”
Said Duffy: “Both of those goals in the second period hurt, but that third goal with two seconds left hurt.”
Greenwich, which outshot New Canaan, 35-27, received 24 saves from junior goalie Charlie Zolin. Beau Johnson posted 34 saves for the victors. The host Cardinals had chances to tally in the third period, but Johnson made 14 saves.
“We talked about getting to 3-2, we played great in the third,” Duffy said. “We had a lot of opportunities and we were getting a lot of pucks to net, but Johnson was really solid. We just couldn’t get it by him for that second goal.”
Senior Jack Hutchins, Wesley Zolin, junior Brendan Frost, Lewis and senior Sean Duffy were among the Cardinals that directed shots at Johnson during the final period.
“We definitely did go through adversity, but we tried to make it what we could of the season and we stuck together,” Greenwich senior captain Sean Duffy said. “We didn’t finish it off, but we got pretty far.”
Added Cataldo: “We played pretty well, but we definitely needed to be stronger on the puck and get the puck out easier. That goal late hurt, but we battled hard and did what we could. The bounces didn’t go our way.”
Jack Johnson opened the game’s scoring, tallying with 3:52 left in the first period nine seconds into a Rams’ power play. Lampert and sophomore Shane Mettler assisted on the goal, which came right after a faceoff in the Cards’ zone.
Bea Johnson made seven first-period saves.
“It’s super awesome to win the title, especially going back-to-back,” Beau Johnson said. “We have so many seniors on this team, they led us so well.”
The matchup marked the final game for Greenwich’s seniors, which included: Ben Bates, Chris Cataldo, John Cataldo, Thatcher Danielson, Duffy, Hutchins, Dylan Kronengold, Will Mairs and Jake Shreders.
“I’ll definitely remember this season,” Sean Duffy said. “It might not have been what we wished it was, it wasn’t a full season. But we definitely made a lot of good memories.”
Said Chris Cataldo: “We did a good job of staying together and we went on a huge win streak toward the end of the season. We will always be a brotherhood and all these boys will be brothers for life.”