New Canaan tips Darien girls ice hockey in 2 OT of FCIAC semifinals

The rivalry showdown was everything it was billed to be.
New Canaan and Darien went toe-to-toe for nearly 75 minutes before Ram freshman Courtney O’Connell blasted in a goal with 1:29 remaining in double overtime, giving New Canaan a 3-2 victory in the FCIAC semifinals Wednesday at the Darien Ice House.
O’Connell’s goal came with an assist from defender Katelyn Sparks, who kept the puck in the zone after a pass from behind net by Darien. Sparks chipped it ahead to O’Connell, who had some time to line up her shot from the left circle. The puck sailed over the left shoulder of Wave goalie Hallie Kreppein and into the net, as the Rams erupted in celebration.
Second-seeded New Canaan (18-3) in the FCIAC championship game, where they take on top seed Greenwich (17-2-1) on Saturday at the Darien Ice House at a time to be determined. Greenwich shut out Ridgefield/Danbury 3-0 in Wednesday’s early semifinal.
Darien (16-4-1) will now await the start of the state tournament, where it has earned the No. 3 seed. The Wave will have a first-round bye before playing in the quarterfinals on Saturday, March 3.
The Rams are returning to the final after being eliminated in the semis last year, and will be bidding for their first FCIAC title since 2012. Darien last year’s runner-up, had appeared in five straight conference finals.
New Canaan, which had lost 10 straight to Darien dating back to the 2013 FCIAC final, has now defeated the Wave three times in three tries this season.
The game was a barn-burner, with both defenses and their goalies stepping up in big spots.
Kreppein made 31 saves and, after allowing a pair of goals in the first period, held the Rams in check for 65 minutes, making numerous tremendous stops along the way.
Seniors Kiki Tropsa and Sally Cassidy were the keys to the defense, with sophomore Cate Droogan and freshman Catherine Martin helping to lock things down.
New Canaan’s defense featured another huge performance from freshman goalie Blythe Novick, who made 29 saves and was in the net for all three of the Rams’ wins over the Wave. In nearly 165 minutes, she has allowed just three goals against the Wave.
The Rams’ defense had a huge effort from junior Jess Eccleston, Sparks, and freshmen McKenna Harden and Sadie Frame.
New Canaan came out flying, scoring twice in the first eight-plus minutes, getting goals from senior Gianna Bruno and freshman Anika Curri for a 2-0 lead.
On the first goal, Bruno sent a pass off to Curri, but her shot was blocked in front by a defender. The puck came to Bruno on the left side and she managed to stuff it pass Kreppein for the score.
A minute later, New Canaan was in the net again, as senior Liz McCarthy helped create an opportunity. Her shot from the right circle was saved by Kreppein, but the puck rebounded to the onrushing McCarthy. She spun and sent a pass to Curri on the far side and Curri fired a goal into the left side of the net.
Darien struck back late in the first period, as junior Shea van den Broek led a rush up the left side of then ice.
Van den Broek swooped in front for a shot, and during the ensuing scrum, freshman Kate Bellissimo smacked the puck into the goal. Senior Corinne Bevill and van den Broek had assists on the play, which cut the deficit to 2-1 with just five seconds remaining in the first period.
New Canaan had a few chances early in the second period, but Darien cashed in for the only goal when van den Broek scored short-handed off a perfect set up from the boards by Bevill. Bevill won the puck on the opposite side and delivered it to van den Broek, who one-timed it past Novick for the equalizer with 5:41 remaining in the second period.
The teams did not score again for the next 48-plus minutes.
In the first OT, New Canaan looked rejuvenated, as they kept the pressure on the Wave zone, but couldn’t find the net.
Kelly Benson led several charges, including a great drive up the left side and in front, but her shot was blocked by Kreppein. Deane nearly got to the rebound, but her attempt was knocked to the corner by Kreppein.
Darien didn’t get much going offensively in the first OT until Kit Arrix and Van den Broek delivered a couple of wide shots in close midway through.
Kreppein continually frustrated the Rams, as she blocked shots by Eccleston, Bruno, O’Connell and Benson down the stretch.
With under a minute remaining in the first OT, Cassidy ripped a shot from the point through traffic, but Novick made the save to keep the score at 2-2.
In the second OT, the Rams and Wave rode a back-and-forth roller coaster before O’Connell ended it.
FCIAC Girls Ice Hockey Semifinals
Wednesday, Feb. 21, at Darien Ice House
New Canaan 3, Darien 2 (2 OT)
Darien 1-1-0-0-0 2
New Canaan 2-0-0-0-1 3
Darien: Shea van den Broek 1 goal, 1 assist; Corinne Bevill 2 assists; Kate Bellissimo 1 goal
New Canaan: Anika Curri 1 goal, 1 assist; Gianna Bruno 1 goal; Courtney O’Connell 1 goal; Liz McCarthy 1 assist; Katelyn Sparks 1 assist
Goalies
D – Hallie Kreppein 31 saves
NC – Blythe Novick 29 saves
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Darien’s Corinne Bevill battles for position in front of the New Canaan net. Bevill had two assists, but the Wave fell to the Rams, 3-2 in double overtime in the FCIAC semifinals. — Dave Stewart photo

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