GREENWICH — It was early in the second period, a couple of minutes before Greenwich goalie Jessie Aselin had stopped New Canaan’s McKenna Harden on a breakaway to preserve the Cardinals’ two-goal lead.
Now the referee had just awarded New Canaan’s Anika Curri a penalty shot after Curri was held from behind while trying to finish off another breakaway. It’s the most exciting play in hockey and on this day proved to be the most important play of the game.
“The penalty shot was the turning point in the game,” New Canaan coach Rich Bulan said after Greenwich’s 4-1 victory at Dorothy Hamill Rink.
Down 2-0 with nine minutes remaining in the middle period, Curri skated in alone on the penalty shot and went to her backhand against Aselin. But the Cards’ senior goaltender wasn’t fooled and blocked the shot on the second breakaway she faced in under three minutes to keep her team in command.
“That was a big play in the game,” said Aselin, who finished with 23 saves, most of which were of the difficult variety. “It was one of my better games.”
Had New Canaan, which saw its seven-game winning streak end, converted on the penalty shot, the outcome could have been different.
“Jessie was outstanding,” Greenwich coach Alex Lerchen said. “She can handle the pressure and is a real gamer. This was an important win for us after the (1-0) loss to Darien and that save really helped us.”
New Canaan (9-2, 6-1 FCIAC) suffered its first league loss and fell into a tie in the loss column with Greenwich (8-1, 5-1) and Darien for first place. The Rams were determined to get back in this game, outshooting the Cardinals 9-3 in the final period and 24-18 over all. But aside from a short-handed tally by New Canaan’s Jess Eccleston after Greenwich had taken a 4-0 lead late in the third period, Aselin wasn’t going to let that happen.
“We lost our last game to Darien and we needed to come out strong,” Aselin said, referring to the early two-goal lead teammates Riley Ellsworth and Jennifer Kelly provided. “We needed to show what we could do today.”
Aselin showed her grit throughout the contest, but stopping the penalty shot was her No. 1 moment.
“I was watching the puck as (Curri) skated in and I didn’t want to move too early,” Aselin said. “Then I locked in on the puck and knew when it was time for me to make my move.”
It remained a 2-0 game until Sydney Orszulak’s great play on the penalty killing unit four minutes into the third period. Orszulak beat Eccleston to the puck after Greenwich shot it all the way down the ice during a New Canaan power play, and slipped the puck past goalie Blythe Novick (14 saves) for a 3-0 lead.
“(Eccleston) had a great game for us today . . . aside from getting beat on the shorthanded goal,” Bulan said. “Greenwich kept the pressure on us all game including that play. For some reason we had the jitters today. I don’t understand why. Hopefully this will be a wakeup call for us.”
Greenwich made it 4-0 with eight minutes remaining in the third period on Kathy Piotrzkowski’s shot from the point. Eccleston’s short-handed goal three minutes later – only the sixth goal allowed by Greenwich in nine games this season – completed the scoring.
“We needed a nice response after the poor showing against Darien,” Lerchen said. “It was a nice start, getting a 2-0 lead is always important. It’s nice to know we can rally after a bad game.”
NOTES: Greenwich is the defending league champion while New Canaan, which has six league titles but none since 2012, has been in 10 of the 14 FCIAC championship games. … New Canaan’s only loss prior to today was a 3-2 overtime defeat to Amity-New Haven-Cheshire on Dec. 15, a team Greenwich beat 6-1 on Dec. 30. … The Cards have now outscored nine opponents 36-6 while New Canaan has outscored its 11 opponents, 42-23.