From 0-5, to a berth in state tournament semifinals – that’s the dramatic turnaround the Greenwich High School boys ice hockey team experienced during its 2022-2023 season.
Despite a slow start to its season and going through struggles along the way, the Cardinals knew what type of hockey was in them and they were hoping it would emerge at some point this season.
Well, it surfaced in a significant way during the postseason. Greenwich posted nine victories this winter, three of which came during the postseason tournaments, with two coming in the CIAC Division I State Tournament. The Cardinals (9-15-1) skated to exciting overtime victories against sixth-seeded Northwest Catholic and third-seeded Simsbury in the first two rounds of the state tournament, earning a spot in the semifinals.
Unfortunately for the Cardinals, that’s where their journey toward a state title ended.
Second-seeded Fairfield Prep scored two goals in both the second and third periods on its way to recording an impressive 5-0 victory over 11th-seeded Greenwich in the semifinal-round of the CIAC Division I Tournament at M&T Bank Arena in Hamden on Thursday evening. The Jesuits advanced to the Division I final, where they will face top-seeded defending champion Notre Dame-West Haven in Wednesday’s 7 p.m. matchup at M&T Bank Arena.
Notre Dame-West Haven eliminated fourth-seeded New Canaan, 5-1, in Thursday night’s other Division I semifinal. Senior defenseman Gregory Hilinski recorded two goals, while junior forwards Blake Baksay and Brendan Murphy and senior forward William Huntington registered a goal apiece for the Jesuits. The victors outshot the Cardinals, 27-17. Despite trailing 2-0 after the first period,
Despite trailing 2-0 after the first period, Greenwich generated its fair share of opportunities offensively, then began the second period on a power play.
“I told the boys, I really liked the way we played in the first period,” Greenwich coach Jack Duffy said. “I thought we had a couple of chances, we were forechecking well and we were creating some opportunities. They took advantage of their opportunities and made it 2-0 and we didn’t. The first period, I thought the effort was great.”
Greenwich, which advanced to the tournament’s semifinals by edging Northwest Catholic, 3-2, in overtime in the opening round and upsetting Simsbury, 1-0, in also in OT in the quarterfinals, fell behind 3-0 when Hilinski tallied off assists from Baksay and Huntington 4:23 into the second period.
With just 1:19 to go in the third period, Murphy finished a strong rush up the ice, snapping a shot past GHS senior goalie Cole Studwell, making it 4-0.
“We talked about that power play coming out of the second, it would have been great to cut that lead in half, but Fairfield Prep played a great game,” Duffy noted. “It was tough, when it was 3-0, we talked about getting one back at the end of the period, we just couldn’t do it.”
Sophomore Gus McGarvey, senior Alexander McGarvey and senior Derek D’Angelo registered shots in the third period, but senior James Heber earned the shutout win in goal for the Jesuits (17-5). There was 6:41 left to play when Prep posted its fifth goal of the game. Huntington received a pass from behind the net from Baksay and one-timed the puck inside the left post, giving the Jesuits a commanding 5-0 advantage. The victors kept the pressure on the Cards and Studwell right up to the end, with Studwell making numerous saves in the third period and 22 for the game.
Junior forward Bailey Rozmus, who scored the game-winner in overtime for the Cardinals in the tourney’s opening round against Northwest Catholic, registered a pair of shots on goal during the third period, while senior forward Will Duncan also applied some pressure in Fairfield Prep’s zone.
“Fairfield Prep, they’re a good team, they moved the puck well,” Greenwich senior forward/tri-captain Matthew Trimmer said. “They are also pretty strong at the defensive end. It’s hard to defend against them. I feel like the score isn’t indicative of how that game went. We had a lot of great chances all game long.”
Said GHS senior defenseman/captain Peter Lewis: “I thought the game was closer than the scoreboard said,” Greenwich defenseman/tri-captain Peter Lewis said. “I feel like the difference was, maybe they were a step quicker than us and they capitalized on more opportunities. We’re not leaving with a sour taste in our mouths, I’m so proud of this team and couldn’t be prouder of a group of guys.”
After an 0-5 start to its season, Greenwich rebounded by winning five of its next six games, giving it a record of 5-6 just past the midway point of the season. However, the Cardinals then went 0-6-1 down the stretch of the season, before they topped Northwest Catholic in its second to last game of the regular season.
Once the playoffs began Greenwich played at a different level, winning three of five games, including a victory against Ridgefield in the FCIAC Tournament quarterfinals, to go along with the two Division I state tourney victories.
“It started really slowly and during the year and we had a lot of adversity,” Lewis noted. “But I think it wasn’t as much as us growing as hockey players as it was growing more as people throughout the year. We had some tough losses, but I feel the character in the locker room made everyone so mature. The past couple of games our bench has been so lively and we’ve been so supportive of each other.”
Indeed, during the playoffs, the Cardinals exhibited solid chemistry, while receiving better production from each line and stellar defensive play/goalie performances.
“The end of the season, I feel like that’s where our true colors come out,” Trimmer said. “To have an 11 seed there, shows what we were capable of all year. We found it late, but we found it in time to make a nice run for ourselves and put together a good run in the postseason.”
Duffy was pleased to see his squad continue to compete extremely hard and work toward improving even though they didn’t get the results they wanted to during the regular season.
“The hockey season is a series of ups and downs,” Duffy noted. “We started out 0-5 and we were having a tough time. As I said to the boys, at any point of the season, we could have thrown our cards in the middle of the table and given up. But the kids doubled down on the effort, the coaching staff doubled down on the effort.”
“Nobody wins a championship in November and December,” Duffy continued. “We got going at the right time, I think we were better than an 11 seed and I think it showed how far we got. It showed the boys hard work and how they believed in themselves.”
The semifinal-round matchup marked the final game for Greenwich’s seniors: Phillip Bijev, Gage Bria, Logan Carino, Derek D’Angelo, Will Duncan, Owen Lanzarone, Peter Lewis, Alex McGarvey, Christopher Rurak, Matthew Rurak, Studwell, Trimmer and Andrew Walko.
“The game is a small part of it,” Studwell said. “Building a brotherhood in the locker room, that’s what matters, at the end of the day. I couldn’t be prouder of all the guys in the locker room the way they have grown as players and teammates. Nobody expected us to go this far and even the FCIAC semis, no one expected us to get there as well.”
What started out as a tough season ended as a memorable one for the Cards.
“We’re going to remember those memorable wins during the playoffs,” Studwell said. “Any time you get to play at DI rink it’s cool. It’s sad to see it come to an end, but wouldn’t want to do it anywhere else.”
“I’m so proud that we ended up in this game and it’s been a privilege to wear this jersey the past four years,” Lewis said. “I’m so proud of this team.”
Categories: Greenwich High, Winter sports
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