DARIEN – The way this game was going, why of course the rebound off a Dylan Madden slapper from the point in the second overtime period would find the stick of Greenwich teammate Charlie Graves.
The FCIAC semifinal boys hockey game between sixth-seed Greenwich and second-seed Darien had to that point gone 44 minutes and 32 seconds – 52 failed shots on goal – without a goal after a 1-1 start. So now Graves, the talented captain of the Cardinals who has been in a frustrating scoring slump for much of the season, only needed to flick the rebound into a nearly empty net to end it and get the Cardinals into Saturday’s FCIAC championship game against Ridgefield.
But would the scoring drought and the game – and Graves’ frustration – continue? Would the puck slip off his stick? Would his shot go wide? Would Darien goalie Henri Pfeifle somehow recover from the slapper and get himself into position to make the save?
Based on the first 65-plus minutes of the game, that’s what most of the folks inside the Darien Ice House expected. Ah, but all things must end. And this game at the Darien Ice House did exactly that when Graves’ wrist shot hit nothing but net five minutes and 19 seconds into the second overtime, giving the underdog Cards and freshman goalie Charlie Zolin a 2-1 victory.
“Charlie (Graves) was due,” Greenwich coach Chris Rurak said after the Cards (11-9-2) earned a berth in the conference final for the fourth time in five years.
Greenwich will meet two-time defending champion Ridgefield in Saturday’s 6 p.m. final at Hamill Rink.
“He’s only gotten a couple of goals this season; it’s been pretty frustrating for him,” Rurak said. “But he was in the right spot at the right time.”
Graves positioned himself perfectly, angling himself to the left of Pfeifle as Madden unleashed his slapper to the goalie’s right.
“I saw the shot from the point and I knew I’d either get a rebound or a pass from someone,” Graves said. “I was surprised I was wide open.”
Graves’ goal kept Darien (16-5) out of the FCIAC final for the fourth consecutive season. That was frustrating enough for the Blue Wave. But a 48-25 advantage in shots on goal made it that much more discouraging.
“We certainly had our chances,” Darien coach Mac Budd said. “Forty eight shots. Wow. We sure got the puck to the net a lot but we just couldn’t finish. And when they had their chance, they did finish. My hat’s off to them, especially to their goalie. He came up big.”
Zolin finished with 47 saves and that included stopping Bennett McDermott’s penalty shot 1:09 into the second period.
“(Zolin) gives a us a chance every game,” Rurak said of his freshman goalie. “He is so mature for such a young man.”
After Darien’s Blake Swiggett tied it 1-1 just 4½ minutes after the penalty shot, Zolin stopped all 35 shots he faced the rest of the way.
“(Zolin) played a heck of a game,” Budd said. “For a freshman, he showed a lot of poise coming into our building and playing like that.”
“I just came in prepared and focused,” Zolin added. “I wanted to win for the seniors, and didn’t want to lose to Darien for a second time this season.”
Greenwich lost to Darien 4-2 on Feb. 18, but beat the Blue Wave 3-0 on Dec. 29.
Greenwich took a 1-0 lead 1:41 into the first period when James Eschricht took a perfect centering pass from Julian Ribushofski and beat Pfeifle to the glove side.
Then came the penalty shot where Zolin got a stick on McDermott’s shot, but Darien finally broke though when Swiggett collected a nice pass from McDermott in front and tapped it past Zolin for the equalizer.
From that point on it was save, save, shots going wide, players fanning on shots, more saves, more near-misses and more saves. Until the puck went off Pfeifle’s pads and landed on Graves’ stick.
“I knew in the second overtime that we were going to do whatever it took,” Graves said. “We had that type of record where people doubted us but we never doubted ourselves.”
Budd, ever the glass-is-half-full type, was smiling after the tough loss, his team’s first in its last 13 games.
“We’re disappointed but I always ask, “How did we play?’ ” Budd said. “I’m proud that we played well and battled hard all the way.”
Pfeifle, one of the top goalies in the state, finished with 23 saves for Darien, which last won the FCIAC crown in 2015 and was hoping for its ninth FCIAC championship.
Greenwich, meanwhile, the 2016 FCIAC champ, will be going after its 12thFCIAC title.