Fairfield, ND-Fairfield battle to OT deadlock in girls hockey

MILFORD - It was just as a ‘rivalry’ game should be. Intense, emotional and electric.

The Warde-Ludlowe girls’ co-op hockey team faced off against its town-rival, the Notre Dame-Fairfield co-op squad on Sunday at the Milford Ice Pavilion and with a load of playoff implications on the line, the two teams battled through three periods and an eight-minute overtime, only to skate off the ice deadlocked in a 2-2 tie.

Fairfield carried the action for much of the opening two periods and headed into the third period holding a 2-0 lead. But ND-Fairfield found its energy and scored twice to even things up.

“We have not played well in the third period all season, so I told them it’s time for us to put it on them and that’s exactly what we did,” Lancers coach Kerri Rowland said. “I was surprised that we did it on the penalty kill. The plan was to do it as soon as we killed off the penalty but Leigha Howland skated down the ice, beat the girl to the puck and then just came around the net and I don’t think anyone in the rink saw that coming except for Leigha, that’s the way she’s played all season. I was really glad she could get that goal, what a spark it was.”

With Katelyn Pond in the box for hooking, the Lancers opened the third period shorthanded but Howland, skating hard, beat a Fairfield defender to the puck, went behind the net and from a tough angle, got the puck past Mustangs goalie Sidney Falterer to cut the Fairfield lead to 2-1.

“We definitely came out sloppy in the third period and they came out hard for it,” Fairfield coach Brian DePodesta said. “It was tough giving up that lead.”

The Lancers pulled even halfway through the third when Madison David stuffed home a rebound past Falterer to make it 2-2.

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“Maddie’s goal … that was probably one of the best games that she’s played all season,” Rowland said. “I kept telling her, ‘it’s your time’ she was due for a goal, go get one and she did. That was pure hard work and heart that got her that one.”

From there, both sides had several solid scoring chances but Falterer and ND-Fairfield goalkeeper Rebecca Paine were equal to the task.

“We were a little slow in the first period and I gave up a not so great goal,” Paine said. “But then in the third as the game got more competitive and more serious, we buckled down and worked as a team to get the job done and get the tie.”

Fairfield’s Maris Estevez scored both goals for the Mustangs, the first coming at 9:05 of the first period, when she slapped home a rebound under Paine’s pads and then at 8:09 of the second when she skated out of the corner and sent a backhander over Paine’s glove.

“Marisa really stepped up. She felt it tonight,” DePodesta said.

“I think we got a little too confident after the first two periods,” Estevez said. “We didn’t keep up the same intensity that we should have or else it would have been a different outcome.”

Paine, a senior, made 28 saves and Falterer, a freshman, 22 as both sides - at the time -- kept slim state playoffs alive.

“Rebecca’s been in goal for us for three years and she’s just gotten better and better,” Rowland said. “This is the time of year when she’s really at her best. We couldn’t have gotten this far without Rebecca and all the hard work that’s she’s put in, that’s for sure.”

“Sidney’s been outstanding,” added DePodesta. “We got outshot by New Canaan 50-something to whatever and she let in only three. She’s kept us in every game.”

Fairfield’s record fell to 8-10-1 with a 2-0 loss to Ridgefield on Monday, a game that knocked them out of the fourth and final FCIAC tournament spot. The top 12 girls’ teams will make the state tournament. At the moment, Fairfield is ranked 14th. Even closer, ND is 13th at 10-10-1.

“It would be awesome if we made states because that’s something we haven’t done before,” Paine said. “We’re usually one of the bottom teams so doing that would be fantastic.”

Interestingly, both teams have only three seniors on their respective rosters, making for a lot of excitement this season with many young faces.

“They are a good, solid, top-to-bottom group,” DePodesta said of his Mustangs, with seven freshmen and five sophomores. “They get along well, they play as a team and they play hard. They’re fun to coach and it’s a great team to be around.”

Added Rowland: “There are a lot of freshmen (10 total on the ND roster) that were on the ice in crucial moments for us tonight,” Rowland said. “I’m very hopeful for the future. It’s very bright.”