Playing for the third time in three nights, the Stamford-Westhill-Staples girls ice hockey team needed to keep its shifts shorter than normal.

It would have no room for error as Fairfield goalie Phoebe Cascella and Stamford goalie Claire Parry traded save for save until the final period when the Staples co-op team came to life.

And with its latest win, the co-op is headed to a place it has never been -- the FCIAC playoffs.

Westhill sophomore Steph Walsh scored a pair of goals 1:10 apart, helping send Stamford-Westhill-Staples to its eighth straight win, edging Fairfield co-op 2-1 on Wednesday at Terry Conners Rink in Stamford. Now at 10-2, the Staples co-op team will be one of the four vying for an FCIAC championship next month.

"The girls stayed patient, they never panicked," Stamford coach Eli Williams said. "We know how good we are right now; we're playing with a lot of confidence."

The teams raced up and down the ice in the final 15 minutes and Fairfield broke the deadlock with 7:30 left in the game. Senior Mary Edmonds collected a loose puck and beat Parry with a backhand that deflected off her glove.

"It's really hard; I try to focus on the game (when it's close)," Parry said. "Giving up one goal was tough; I was so glad (when we scored)."

Fairfield didn't get to celebrate long, as Walsh took advantage of chaos in front of the Fairfield cage and beat Cascella (31 saves) for the first time with 6:53 left.

Walsh found herself alone in front of the net 1:10 later, called for a pass and gave the hosts a lead.

"(Teammate) Kyra DalBello was behind the net and no one was covering me," Walsh said. "So I just yelled for the puck and shot it to the opposite corner."

Parry made save after save at the other end, tallying 30 in total, including three in the final 90 seconds to preserve the win.

"She's our rock back there," Williams said. "It starts with our goal out, to our defense is responsible the way through to the forwards."

Fairfield (4-7), which hadn't played since Saturday, piled on the pressure in the second period. Fairfield had a power play chance early in the period, but Parry made several saves to keep the shutout bid intact.

"(We) played really hard," Fairfield coach Chelsea Crowley said. "They put everything out there, all their energy. It was a tough loss, a close one. It's a mental game I think we got a little flustered, but we were able to get it back in the last few minutes."

Fairfield's defense -- led by Courtney Scheetz -- did an excellent job of locking down Stamford's top threats Cassie Miolene and Meg Fay. Fairfield fell 5-4 to Stamford-Westhill-Staples on Dec. 13.

"We're starting to make a little noise now and we're starting to get respect," Williams said. "Those are our top two; (opponents) are going to be covering them. It gives chances to girls like Stephanie Walsh to step out and put the spotlight on her, and she absolutely did that for us."

Staples co-op gets three valuable days of rest before getting a chance to avenge one of its defeats on Saturday against Ridgefield.,

Stamford-Westhill-Staples 2, Fairfield co-op 1

FAIRFIELD 0 0 1--1


Records: Fairfield 4-7, 2-7 FCIAC; Stamford-Westhill-Staples 10-2, 6-2.

Goals: F--Mary Evans SWS--Steph Walsh 2. Assists: SWS--Cassie Miolene, Erin McGroarty, Kyra Dal Bello. Goalies: F--Phoebe Cascella (31 saves); SWS--Claire Parry (30).