FCIAC Champion New Canaan Rams now four wins from State Title, perfection
Updated 9:36 pm, Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Words like "amazing," "epic" and "incredible" can get thrown around pretty loosely in the sports world. On Saturday afternoon at the Terry Connors Ice Rink in Stamford, any and all of those words were befitting of the FCIAC Championship game between New Canaan and St. Joseph. And for New Canaan, it was an amazing conclusion to an amazing run.
When the dust finally settled, New Canaan won a 4-3 overtime thriller after David Crandall redirected a Tom Krieger shot past St. Joseph goalie Zach Carrano. It would have been nearly impossible to write a more dramatic script after New Canaan's Dylan Hart and Jake Granito had scored in the third period to erase a 3-1 deficit and force the game into sudden death.
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"Tom Krieger took it at the point, he teed it up and I got in front of the net, and I just put my stick down and deflected it in," Crandall said. "It could have been anyone else on the team. I just happened to be in the right position at the right time."
For New Canaan, the FCIAC Championship was the culmination of a dominant run through a grueling 20-game regular season schedule (plus three FCIAC tournament playoff games) that began in December and spanned 11 weeks.
With an unblemished record through 23 games in 2010-11, the Rams won games in every way imaginable. They routed teams, they shut teams out, they won some close games, they came from behind to win, they won in overtime and they turned crosstown rival Darien away three times in three highly-contested and often volatile games.
Just as impressive, the Rams never allowed the pressure of completing a perfect season hinder their performance on the ice. And while many players admitted that they would occasionally think about the allure of going undefeated as the season went on, the goal was always the same: Win the FCIAC Championship. Doing so undefeated would simply be an added bonus.
"The FCIAC title definitely is bigger," Crandall said. "That was our goal all season long, and to go undefeated is just the icing on the cake."
After 22 games and 45 minutes of hockey, New Canaan's FCIAC title dreams still hung in the balance of a pressure-packed sudden death overtime period. But as they had done all season, the Rams rose to the occasion when they needed to. New Canaan applied tremendous pressure in overtime while keeping the puck out of its own zone, and Crandall got to play the role of unlikely hero.
Although coach Bo Hickey had very few complaints all season, one recurring issue was New Canaan's tendency to get off to slow starts. However, he wasn't the least bit surprised in his team's ability to perform in crunch time.
"The only game you've really got to win is the last one of the season," Hickey said. "Did you see any panic? Did anyone try to jump off the top of the bleachers? It ain't happening. Some of these guys have been here four years. They know hockey's a fun game. Things can turn quickly."
The Championship game wasn't without controversy, as both teams had a potential game-winning goal disallowed late in the third period. With 2:48 remaining, New Canaan and St. Joseph engaged in a wild scramble in front of the Cadets' net. New Canaan shot the puck off the crossbar, and the puck was then batted into the net by a New Canaan stick. The ensuing New Canaan celebration was short-lived, however, as the official immediately waved off the goal, ruling that the puck had been knocked into the net by a high stick.
Then with just 33 seconds remaining, St. Joseph's Conor Crouse skated into the New Canaan zone, made a few nifty dekes and snapped off a high shot past New Canaan goalie Tim Nowacki. However, St. Joseph's apparent game-winner was also disallowed by the official, who ruled that one of the Cadets was in the crease, thus preventing Nowacki from being able to make a play on the puck.
After the game, St. Joseph coach Marty Crouse took issue with his team's goal being waved off by the officials.
"Our guy was pushed into the net by their player, and that goal should count. It should stand," Crouse said. "But there are three officials out there, and I don't know how they come up with some of these, but that's the call they made."
On the flip side, New Canaan's Reed Harper seemed to believe that the Rams' disallowed goal should have counted.
"I did not see that call very well," Harper said. "He initially called it a goal and then their player complained about it and then he called it no goal, but we went with it. We go with the flow."
Through 24 straight wins, New Canaan's work is far from over, and even after winning the FCIAC tournament, Krieger said that the team would immediately begin preparing for the looming State tournament.
"As a senior, it's very nice to get this win first," Krieger said. "I'm going to enjoy this tonight, and then tomorrow it's done. We go right back to work. We've got another goal to take care of, and that's the State Championship."
The Rams, who are the top seed, began the 16-team State tournament on Wednesday evening by picking up a 5-1 win over the No. 16 seeded Greenwich Cardinals (7-11-2) at the Darien Ice Rink. Only three wins stand between the Rams and perfection.
"We're a resilient team. We're a third period team," Harper said following New Canaan's FCIAC Championship victory. "We've scored a lot of third period goals which sort of put us over the top and set us apart from the rest of the teams in the state, and I think that's going to mean a lot going into these last four games."