NEW CANAAN — In a game with so little separation, which put the microscope over each scoring opportunity, New Canaan’s Liam Griffiths made the most of his fourth-quarter chances tonight against Wilton.
Griffiths scored both of the Rams’ goals in the period, the second with 1:03 remaining for a hard-fought 9-8 home win.
“That was tough one,” Griffiths said. “We came out well though. As we got into the third quarter we were moving the ball really well and it was just a matter of having our shots drop. They started going. Our defense played phenomenal tonight. I’m really happy with that.”
New Canaan improved to 1-2 after a pair of non-league losses, but the first victory was not easy. The Rams twice had to come from behind in the second half of a game in which the only time either team led by more than a goal was when New Canaan was up 5-3 late in the second quarter.
“Wilton played phenomenal,” New Canaan coach Chip Buzzeo said. “Either team could have won tonight. Both teams played very, very well. Especially just the overall toughness of both teams and the hustle. I was very impressed. Wilton, it’s tough to lose a game like that but those players played really hard and they should be proud.”
Chris Canet scored three goals to lead the Rams. Carl Mazabras was outstanding, with 15 saves in goal.
The game-winner came when Drew Guida, who scored the night’s first goal, picked up a loose ball and found Griffiths alone in front of the net.
“I kind of slipped open, Guida found me with a great pass, all credit to him,” Griffiths said. “He got the ball moving and spinning the entire night. We found the opportunity and put it away.”
Wilton (1-3) had a final chance to try and tie the game but Reilly Sullivan’s shot was blocked by the Rams’ Jack Finnigan.
“It was a great game,” said Steve Pearsall, the Warriors’ first-year coach. “The kids fought hard. I couldn’t ask for a better effort.”
Dean DiNanno and Jack Savarese scored twice for Wilton, which led twice in the third quarter, only to see the Rams equalize. Andrew Calabrese was spectacular in goal, with 20 saves. He also helped give the Warriors’ their first lead, running the length of the field to set up DiNanno with 4:31 left in the first period for a 3-2 advantage.
Perhaps the best battle took place on Wilton’s end of the field, where Ryan Schriber, its star defender, was pitted all night against Quintin O’Connell, the Rams’ All-America middie.
“He’s unbelievable. He’s a stud,” O’Connell said. “Nothing but respect for Ryan. He’s one of the best if not the best defenseman in the country. He was a warrior but that’s why the game is not an individual game, it’s a team game. To be able to rely on so many other different guys on our team, to come through at the end and believe in each other.”
This was Wilton’s third straight one-goal loss. The others were 7-6 overtime decisions to John Jay and Greenwich.
The next four games are equally challenging, ending with a home game next week against Darien.
“I knew going into the season with the schedule we set up it was going to be a gauntlet,” Pearsall said. “Hopefully they’ll prepare us for the second half of the season and the playoffs. I feel good about the effort. I think we grew as a team today.”
— Dave Ruden (@DaveRuden) April 9, 2019
Buzzeo said the play of his defense was integral to tonight’s outcome.
“Wilton did a good job tonight extending our defense a little bit on some of their goals,” Buzzeo said. “We tried to stay as tight as possible and hopefully force a bad-angle shot or a turnover or get the ball on the ground. We were able to clear the ball I think 100 percent tonight and that’s probably what won the game.”