New Canaan blanks Fairfield to reach third straight FCIAC final
DARIEN — The New Canaan girls ice hockey team has been faced with numerous obstacles this season, including injuries and illnesses which have led to an ever-changing lineup since Game 1 in December.
Now, the Rams are healthy, and they’re back in a familiar spot.
New Canaan advanced to the FCIAC final for the third straight season with a 5-0 shutout of the Fairfield co-op in the semifinals Wednesday night at the Darien Ice House.
Courtney O’Connell snapped a scoreless tie off a great feed from Kaleigh Harden early in the second period and the floodgates opened after that. Sophomore Jade Lowe had a hat trick, including a pair of third-period goals 33 seconds apart, and Harden iced the game with a late goal for the final tally.
No. 1 New Canaan (14-5-2) will face rival Darien (15-2-2), the No. 2 seed, for the FCIAC championship at 3:50 p.m., Saturday, at the Darien Ice House. New Canaan will be looking for a repeat league title, while Darien, who beat Greenwich 1-0 in Wednesday’s late semifinal, will be looking for its first FCIAC crown since 2016.
“Nobody’s really talked about us at all this year because of who we graduated and who we lost, and then we had some major injuries,” New Canaan coach Rich Bulan said. “I’m just so proud of this group going through all of that and now, we’re finally healthy. We still have a long way to go, and we’ve got our work cut out for us. We’ve got to play with this kind of passion on Saturday.”
“That’s so good,” New Canaan senior co-captain Quincy Connell said of three straight finals appearances. “I just love these girls so much, love the coaches, and this team. No matter what, we keep working hard. We’ll take this win, and without a doubt, the next practice we’re just going to get back to work.”
New Canaan had to overcome a stellar performance from Fairfield’s junior goalie Sidney Falterer, who collected 30 saves, many of them stunners.
“Sidney Falterer is amazing,” Fairfield coach Michelle Marella said. “We’re very fortunate to have her, we’ll have her another year, and she’s saved us many games. No matter what the outcome, win or lose, she always wins for us.”
The Rams’ game plan against Falterer was to keep the heat turned up and keep shooting.
“She’s a very good goalie and we knew going in that we were going to have to get as many shots as possible,” Connell said. “It really came down to us crashing those rebounds as much as we could. All the goals were us working hard and getting to those rebounds as fast as we could.”
The Rams’ first goal was created by Harden, who weaved through a couple of defenders in the left circle and then slipped a pass across to O’Connell for the score inside the right pipe at the 3:54 mark of the second period.
Fairfield had a great opportunity to equalize during a 2-on-1 break for Sophia Mughal and Lindsay Maloney later in the second. Maloney’s pass gave Mughal a wide-open look, but New Canaan goalie Blythe Novick (14 saves) came up with the stop to keep the Rams ahead.
With 1:32 remaining in the period, Grace Crowell delivered a perfect set-up to Lowe, who cashed in for a 2-0 lead.
Lowe netted two more goals in the third period to break the game open, and Harden scored the final goal on a breakaway with 6:36 to go.
“We came out strong, held them 0-0 after the first, and then we just got tired” Marella said. “We can’t finish three strong periods. We’ll play two strong ones and then after the second period, when we go into the locker room, a different team comes out on the ice. It was tough.”
For Bulan, the play of the second line, which featured Lowe, Connell and Crowell, was a difference-maker.
“As good as the first line was, the second line had a game-and-a-half, whether it was penalty killing, Jade with three goals, and Quincy Connell was everywhere,” Bulan said. “(Quincy) was the most recognizable player on the ice tonight. She played a great game, did a lot of good things, and was just everywhere.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Quincy Connell, New Canaan: The senior co-captain and forward was a whirlwind from start to finish, creating numerous opportunities and consistently wreaking havoc in the offensive zone for the Rams.
“We all know that no matter who it is, we all can score and we support every single girl on this team. Everyone has each other’s backs and that’s what it really comes down to in these tough games.” — New Canaan senior co-captain Quincy Connell
NEW CANAAN 5, FAIRFIELD 0
FAIRFIELD 0 0 0 — 5
NEW CANAAN 0 2 3 — 5
Second period: NC — Courtney O’Connell (Kaleigh Harden) 3:54; NC - Jade Lowe (Grace Crowell) 13:28; Third period: NC — Lowe (Crowell, Quincy Connell) 5:32; NC — Lowe (Amanda Benson, Sophie Potter) 6:05; NC — Harden 8:24.
Saves: FF — Sidney Falterer 30; NC — Blythe Novick 14.
Records: Fairfield 10-10-1; New Canaan 14-5-2.