STAMFORD — As is often the case with postseason hockey, it was a tale of the hot goaltender Wednesday in the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference Tournament semifinal doubleheader at Terry Conners Rink.
In the opening game, St. Joseph High School sophomore Ryan Wilson put on a Ken Dryden-like performance, stopping 42 shots as the Cadets earned a berth in Saturday’s final with a shocking 2-1 upset victory over defending league and state Division 1 champion Darien.
Then in Wednesday’s second semifinal, Nick Bozzuto had 33 saves and made sure the Greenwich Cardinals returned to the championship game by shutting out a talented Ridgefield squad, 3-0.
Greenwich might have been a little disappointed by the first-game result, however. Darien beat the Cards in both the FCIAC and Division 1 finals last year, but it will be St. Joseph supplying the opposition in Saturday’s final at 3 p.m. at Conners.
“Are we disappointed Darien lost?” Greenwich coach Bob Russel said, referring to the revenge factor. “In a way, yes.”
Greenwich will going for its fourth FCIAC title since 2000 (2001, 2002, 2009) while St. Joseph will be in search of its first FCIAC crown.
Greenwich 3, Ridgefield 0
Mike Mozien scored two goals, including the clinching empty-netter with 12 seconds remaining, but it was Bozzuto who was the number one star. He stopped all 33 Ridgefield shots but was especially strong in the third period when the top-seeded Cardinals (17-4) seemed to be killing penalties for much of the time.
“Bozzuto was really solid, especially with all the penalties we took,” Russel said. “He made himself really big and showed a lot of character out there today.”
Ridgefield (11-9-2), the No. 4 seed, had several good chances during all the third-period power plays, which included some 5-on-3 time. But the Tigers couldn’t figure out Bozzuto.
“The third period was tough, that’s for sure,” Bozzuto said. “But we did a good job killing penalties.”
“Coming close isn’t getting it done,” Ridgefield coach Sean Gallagher added. “Our power play didn’t convert even though we had lot of good chances. But the Greenwich goalie made the stops when he had to.”
Bozzuto wasn’t the only goalie playing well in the second game. To be fair, this could have been a scoreless game after regulation the way Ridgefield’s Sean Keegans was playing. Keegan’s (21 saves) had no shot on Mozien’s first goal, which came after a bad Tiger turnover just 1:35 into the game. He had even less of a chance on Colin Kelly’s slap shot blast from the left side early in the second period.
“Keegans made some amazing saves,” Gallagher said, “but we just couldn’t get over the hump.”
Getting over the hump is something Greenwich is hoping to do after last year’s two near-misses against Darien.
“Getting back to the final was our goal since Day 1,” Bozzuto said. “But I have to say, seeing St. Joseph win tonight was a little tough.”
“We still have a chance to get Darien again (in the Division 1 Tournament),” Russel added. “We can all write the books about what might have been in the offseason.”
St. Joseph 2, Darien 1
Wilson knew that if St. Joseph was going to pull off the upset in the opener, it was going to have to be on his shoulders. But after allowing five goals in a loss to Darien six weeks ago, Wilson also knew it wasn’t going to be easy.
“I definitely felt a lot of pressure before the game,” Wilson said. “I spent a lot of time trying to remember how they scored those five goals against me the first time. I just didn’t want to let any soft ones get by me.”
Wilson stopped 42 of 43 shots, including all 15 in the opening period when the No. 2 seed Blue Wave (17-4) dominated to the tune of a 15-2 shots on goal advantage. Wilson’s performance, coupled with a pair of timely goals by Nick DiSabella and Sean Attanasio, lifted the No. 6 seed Cadets (12-9-1) into Saturday’s final. The Cadets, runners-up in 2011 and 2011, will be gunning for their first FCIAC crown.
“Their goalie was just fantastic and they scored when they had to,” Darien coach Mac Budd said. “I figured their goalie couldn’t stand on his head for three periods, but we just ran into a kid in net who was on his game.”
When Darien’s Sam Knowlton finally got a shot past Wilson 1:58 into the second period, it felt like Wilson’s and the Cadets’ magic might be coming to an end. But 2:48 later, DiSabella knocked in a rebound and St. Joseph had regained the momentum, and then never lost it.
“Most teams don’t come out of that first period 0-0,” St. Joseph coach J.R. Bria said. “But our MO is that we tend to hang around.”
And hang around and hang around. And when Attanasio streaked down the left side and beat Darien’s David Voight (13 saves) on a shot the goalie probably stops 999 out of 1,000 times, the Cadets were in front and a mere 6:19 away from pulling off the upset . . . as long as Wilson could keep standing on his head.
“We like what David has done for us all year,” Budd said of his goaltender. “But it’s tough when the puck is in the other end 80 percent of the time. Even if Voight stops that shot, it’s a 1-1 game and it still would have been hard to beat (Wilson).”
NOTES: St. Joseph beat Fairfield 2-0 in the opening round while Ridgefield got past New Canaan 4-0. … St. Joseph defeated Greenwich 3-0 last month in the teams’ regular-season meeting. … Ridgefield was looking for its third FCIAC title in five seasons. … Darien, Greenwich, New Canaan and Ridgefield have won every FCIAC championship since 1996 except for 2003, when Stamford won.