New Canaan entered Wednesday’s FCIAC Girls Hockey Tournament semifinal against Greenwich sporting a 19-0-1 record with numerous convincing victories to its ledger, yet coach Rich Bulan’s team had to compete especially hard to post win No. 20.
That’s because the Rams went against a Cardinals team that usually seems to play them tough and such a scenario transpired again when the FCIAC rivals faced off for the right to advance to the tournament’s title game.
Top-seeded New Canaan used one goal apiece in the first and third period to edge fourth-seeded Greenwich, 2-0, in a hard-fought semifinal-round matchup at Darien Ice House. The Rams (20-0-1) will play third-seeded Stamford-Westhill-Staples in Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. conference final at Darien Ice House.
The victors held a 30-23 shots-on-goal edged on the Cardinals and received 23 saves from freshman goalie Nikki Ferraro. Of their 20 triumphs so far this season, nine have come by way of the shutout variety for the Rams.
“This kid for a freshman, that’s her ninth shutout this year,” New Canaan coach Rich Bulan said. “She has the perfect temperament for it. She truly focuses as a goaltender I love working with her because when you talk to her you could see that she’s thinking of everything as a goaltender. Nikki has shutout some pretty good teams and she comes to play.”
Bulan was, once again, highly impressed with Greenwich, which was defeated by his squad, 2-0, back on Jan. 20.
“They always come to play,” Bulan said of Greenwich. “They always play us hard, I look forward to those games. Her team (GHS coach Brook Heron) does not quit and I love that. The first period, I thought we had a couple of chances in the first period, we hit a post and had an open net. Then Greenwich settled down and started pushing us to the outside and made us work for everything.”
The Cardinals (10-6-1) received outstanding play in goal from Emma Kunschner. A junior, Kunschner rose to the occasion again for GHS, making 28 saves, stopping and deflecting shots from all angles.
“I was definitely stressed it was a big game, but I played the best as I could,” Kunschner said. “My teammates were helping me out a lot by tying up girls in front of the net. I had fun, but we just couldn’t pull it off.”
Said Cardinals coach Brooke Heron: “She played out of her mind, she really helped us in this game.”
While New Canaan moves on to the championship game of the FCIAC Tournament for the fifth straight time and will seek to win its ninth conference title, the season isn’t over for the Cardinals. Greenwich hosts Guilford in the opening round of the state girls hockey tournament on Tuesday at Dorothy Hamill Skating Rink. The game is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m.
“I’m very excited,” Kunschner said of the Cards’ state tournament opener. “Hopefully we can win that one. As long as we played like we did today I think we can probably pull it off.”
The Cardinals had their chances to strike first in the opening period. They earned a power play 1:41 into the first period, but the Rams kept it scoreless game. Junior forward Sophie Roth and senior forward Lexi Danielson directed shots toward Ferraro, who made sure the matchup remained tied.
New Canaan went on a power play with 5:47 remaining in the first period and just five seconds into the power play it capitalized.
Receiving the puck from senior Maddie Kloud off the faceoff, junior defender Amanda Benson drove a slap shot on goal from just below the blue line and senior forward Jade Lowe, positioned near the post, deflected in Benson’s shot, giving the Rams a 1-0 lead at the 5:42 mark of the first period.
Trailing 1-0, the Cards generated a good number of shots in the opening period. Ferraro made a glove save off a hard shot from the point from Coffee with 3:03 to go in the opening stanza, keeping her team in front.
“I think we definitely put in our best effort,” Kunschner said. “We worked as hard as we can and even though we didn’t get the outcome we wanted, we definitely played to the best of our ability and put everything out there.”
New Canaan went into the third period with a 24-13 shots-on-goal advantage, but still led 1-0. Kunschner made save on a shot off a breakaway by New Canaan’s Caitlin Tully late in the period and turned away several shots from close range throughout the period. The Cardinals also had their opportunities, with Sophie and Kelsey Roth, senior Lily Bates and Coffee pacing the way.
“We had opportunities, we just didn’t capitalize, the bounces didn’t go our way, but we played them hard and I think they were (New Canaan) scared at one point, that we might actually have come up with a win,” Heron said. “We just have to work on getting the puck to the net, because I think our defensive end was great.”
Junior Caroline Lawrence, senior Tess Marciano and Coffee were among some of the Cardinals’ standout defenders.
“Lawrence has been huge on defense for us the second half of the season,” Heron said.
The game remained in the balance until New Canaan gained a 2-0 advantage with just 4:36 to go in the third period. Controlling the puck in the defensive zone, Haden quickly skated alone down the right wing and scored off a breakaway, giving the Rams some breathing room with a two-goal lead.
“Harden is unbelievable with the puck, she’s a special player,” Bulan said. “When she’s 1-on-1, it’s crazy.”
Ferraro stopped 10 shots during the third period for another shutout win, while Kunschner finished the game with 28 saves.
“We definitely played one of our better games, this is second to that Darien win we had,” Kunschner said. “We have definitely gotten better as the season has gone on. Our practices have been productive and we’ve learned a lot.”
Categories: Greenwich High, Winter sports
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