For junior goalie Nathalie Deney and the New Canaan girls hockey team, the script had thus far been perfect. Literally.
The 21-0 Rams were a single win away from their fourth consecutive FCIAC championship, but it was not to be. A late Darien goal left the Rams on the wrong side of a 4-3 final.
Deney took the loss hard, but knew there was more hockey to be played.
"She took that very hard; we all did. It was one of those games. We told the girls that this is what happens sometimes," New Canaan coach Rich Bulan said. "Her teammates rallied around her and explained to her that there can be 9, 10, 11 things that happen in a game that could have changed the outcome. By Sunday everybody forgot it and was ready to come back on Monday. She put it out of her mind and realized there was still a state championship out there."
"As a goalie, you always have to say it's not your fault, but I took that personally and that one-goal deficit is something you replay over and over in your mind," Deney said. "Once we shook it off, I didn't think about it anymore. We were all ready for (the state tournament). We had worked so hard that season."
Quickly putting the FCIAC championship in her rearview, Deney was back on the ice two days later for New Canaan's first round state tournament meeting against Greenwich. Deney was on point from the time the opening puck dropped, stopping all 11 Greenwich shots to earn the shutout in her team's 7-0 win.
"We took penalties against Greenwich and she made some huge saves against them," Bulan said.
In the semifinals, the Rams faced Simsbury, a team they had twice beaten in the regular season, albeit by just a single goal on each occasion. Thanks in no small part to Deney's play between the pipes, however, Round 3 would be lacking in drama, as the New Canaan netminder stopped 11 of 12 shots in a 5-1 victory.
"We came out firing against Greenwich and then we beat Simsbury. By the state final, I had settled back down," Deney said. "We had just come off an undefeated regular season. It was fantastic, but what we really wanted were championship titles. It was the best senior class in years and we were all motivated to send them off on a positive note."
The semifinal win set up a rematch of the previous season's state championship game against Hall/Conard, which defeated the Rams for the 2012 title.
Deney would have none of it in 2013, pitching another shutout by stopping all 18 of Hall/Conard's shots in her team's tense 2-0 victory and becoming a state champion in the process.
"It was incredible. When I went in, I never could have foreseen this. I went in with blind eyes and it's too much to believe. Our team was so close and we wanted to send our seniors of right," Deney said. "It was so funny. I was taking that game minute by minute and didn't realize it was a shutout. The shutout was icing on the cake; I was so into the game."
Prior to the start of the season, it was anyone's guess as to who the team's second goalie would be in addition to returnee Sarah Klearman.
"She's a goalie in lacrosse, and when she got on the ice we realized early that, first of all, she was an athlete," Bulan said. "It was not long before she started taking to the whole goaltending thing."
"I played in a house league at the Winter Club when I was little up until eighth grade and played goalie once in a game," Deney said. "Katie Means came up to me during lunch one day and said we were really looking for backup goalie, so come try it out."
Deney and the Rams have a state crown to defend next season, and she is entering the season as one of the team captains.
"We needed a captain, and she is a captain next season," Bulan said. "Truthfully I joke with her all the time and say `hey, you're going to have to make a lot of saves next year.' "
"I was so excited. (Bulan) pulled me aside a few days ago, gave me a big hug and said you would be captain next year," Deney said. "I was elated. This is one of the best teams in the FCIAC and it's a dream come true."
As a junior, Deney hasn't picked a college yet, but she is taking the SAT's on Thursday.
"I haven't thought about sports in college, but I would love to keep playing hockey, even if it's not at a varsity sport," Deney said. "I'm looking at engineering schools."
Deney, who also swims the breaststroke and freestyle on the swim team and plays goalie in lacrosse, is looking forward to the start of lacrosse season.
A goalie in two sports, Deney indicated that one of the only similarities is the mentality.
"Really, the only similar thing is the mindset. Lacrosse is more agility and requires more running and interacting with players," Deney said. "In hockey you just have to focus on being a wall. A solid, unmovable kind of attitude."
email@example.com; Twitter: @jchik17