DARIEN — For 2½ periods it was a head-scratcher of a girls hockey game. But then, in the final minutes, two of the best players in the state did their best to make sense of it all in the latest rendition of this Darien-New Canaan rivalry.
Ninety seconds after New Canaan’s Catherine Granito scored the tying goal, Darien’s Georgia Cassidy netted the game-winner, giving the Blue Wave a 3-2 Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference victory at the Darien Ice Rink in a game they never thought would end up that close.
“My hat’s off to New Canaan,” Darien coach Jamie Tropsa said after the Rams completely turned the game around in the third period. Darien outshot New Canaan 26-4 in the first two periods before everything changed. “They have tough, competitive kids and never die. But (Cassidy) wasn’t about to roll over and was determined to make something happen.”
All right, try to figure this out: Darien (9-1, 8-0 FCIAC) had the decisive edge in shots against New Canaan (8-1, 6-1) during the first two periods … but was able to take just a 2-0 lead thanks to the acrobatic play of New Canaan freshman goaltender Amanda Hill. In all fairness, if not for Hill it probably could have been an 8-0 Darien lead.
Then there is the case of Granito, who recently became the fourth player in the history of Connecticut state girls hockey to crack the 200-point career scoring mark. Granito seemed to be a non-factor in the first two periods, although it was later learned that she was playing with a broken finger and had been sick since Wednesday.
But as surprising as those elements were, now try to figure out how the Rams made this a game in the third period after being completely dominated for two periods. The Rams outshot Darien 14-2 in the final period and got even when Granito scored on a power play goal by pulling a Wayne Gretzky with a shot from behind the goal line that banked in off Darien goalie Emily Gianunzio (16 saves).
“Simple adjustments,” New Canaan coach Rich Bulan said, in a possible understatement. “We were so wound up, I said ‘Let’s be smart.’ I told them there are only so many moments in life like this. This is your moment.”
And so the game did a 180 and the Rams began dominating until Granito’s goal tied it with 4:51 left in the third period. It was her 131st career goal to go with 74 assists. And if that wasn’t enough to make sense of it all, the Blue Wave’s star player then did what was expected of her and stepped up and sent Darien to victory.
“I don’t know, something changed in the third period,” Cassidy said. “We let up and they came out with intensity. But after they made it 2-2 I knew we could do it.”
Cassidy skated in on goal and wristed a shot from the slot past Hill with 3:21 remaining to win it.
“They had two defensemen in front of the goal and I aimed between their skates and shot it in,” Cassidy said.”
Ho hum. Cassidy being Cassidy after the crowd saw Granito being Granito. Finally, the game added up.
Earlier, Darien took a 2-0 lead when Elise Maro took a pass from Hannah McLane and whipped it past Hill (25 saves) for a 1-0 lead 2:52 into the opening period. Then, 7 1/2 minutes later, the Blue Wave made it 2-0 when Cassidy Schiff tipped in a shot from the point by Katie Zaro. The Blue Wave didn’t score in the second period against Hill but outshot the Rams, 14-1.
Then the third period began and it seemed like the teams switched uniforms.
“We could’ve folded if they had scored the next goal but we got it and got the momentum,” Bulan said. “This was just a great girls hockey game.”
Kate McMahon scored for New Canaan 5:29 into the third period to cut the deficit to 2-1 before Granito shook off the effects of her sickness and scored the tying goal.
“Granito is never a non-factor,” Tropsa said. “Whenever she’s on the ice she’s a factor. But we did a really good job on her.”
That left it up to Cassidy, who was able to finally make her mark on this game.
NOTES: Darien is the three-time defending FCIAC champion. New Canaan won the previous three titles. … Darien, which has lost only to Greenwich Academy, has outscored its opponents, 58-8. New Canaan has outscored its opponents, 52-10. … The teams meet again on Jan. 29 at the Darien Ice Rink.