DARIEN -- Members of the New Canaan High School girls' hockey team expected it to be difficult. The Rams had narrowly beaten Ridgefield twice -- 4-3 and 5-4 during the regular season. As it turned out, the FCIAC Tournament quarterfinal round game between No. 1 New Canaan and fourth-seeded Ridgefield was fairly lopsided from the start as the Rams built a 5-0 lead en route to a 5-2 triumph at Darien Ice Rink on Wednesday.

With the win, the Rams earn a rematch with Darien in the championship game, slated for Saturday at 6:30 pm at Stamford's Terry Connors Ice Rink. Darien beat Wilton in the other semifinal. New Canaan beat DHS in last year's pinnacle game, one year after Darien beat the Rams in the final.

"I'm so excited. It's always a great game against Darien," New Canaan's Olivia Hompe said. "I think it's going to be a great game going into states as well -- to set the tone."

Against Ridgefield, the Rams jumped out quickly with two goals in the first three minutes -- one by Olivia Hompe and the other by Corbett Ripley. In the second period, the Rams added three more tallies as Holly Burwick, Hompe and Ripley capped the team's scoring.

New Canaan Coach Rich Bulan was thrilled to get goal-scoring efforts from second-line players Ripley and Burwick. Jana Persky had three assists, and Burwick, Abbey Buckenheimer and Molly Robustelli all added assists in the win.

New Canaan first-year goaltender Britt Gardella kicked aside 19 shots, making some timely saves to keep her team in front. New Canaan outshot Ridgefield 29-21 thanks in part to a strong defensive effort by Madzie Carroll, Bianca Schultz, Carla Paredes, and Buckenheimer.

Ridgefield kept battling in the third and got two goals to make things a little interesting. Ridgefield found itself on a late-game power play and pulled its goalie for an extra attacker and rare 6-on-4 advantage. The Rams were up to the penalty killing task and Paredes, in fact, drew a penalty on Ridgefield during the kill. Bulan was pleased with his team's penalty killing efforts. He was not at all surprised the Ridgefield kept battling in the third.

"They play us harder than anybody," the coach said. "They match up well with us. That's a solid team. We knew that it was going to be a battle."

So were the Rams nervous about having to face a Ridgefield team which was one of few to actually challenge them this campaign?

"I think we came in more excited because we like the hard games," said Hompe, adding that the team would have to get through the best of the FCIAC to reach and win the final anyway, so why not start with Ridgefield? "They're all great teams -- we're going to have to get by all of them at some point. It was a good game. Ridgefield never gave up -- they played a great game," Hompe said.

Gardella said the Rams talked before the game and before the start of each period about the importance of playing hard against Ridgefield. "We all played so well together. We have good chemistry," the goalie added.

The key to winning against Darien, Bulan said, will be the Rams sticking to their style of play, which is using speed, and setting up good scoring chances. New Canaan, after falling behind 2-0 to Darien in the first regular-season meeting, caught fire and rolled to a 7-2 triumph, then skated to an easy 6-1 victory in the second clash. Bulan, however, doesn't expect it to be so easy on Saturday.

"I expect it to be a lot tougher. I expect them to shut us down as best they can," the coach said.

"It's going to be another one of these games. Darien sees the `NC' and forget it. We see the `Blue Wave' and it's all over," said Bulan, referring to the uniform logos and the fierce rivalry. "We look forward to this every year. This is what we live for -- this is what we play for."

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