GREENWICH — Justin Wietfeldt eventually made the decisive play, scoring a power play goal with 4:01 remaining, but the machinations that led to New Canaan’s 3-2 victory over Greenwich today actually got under way three days earlier.
For it was on Monday, before New Canaan’s 4-3 victory against Westhill-Stamford, that Rams coach Clark Jones made a lineup change, moving Wietfeldt from defense to a forward line. It worked perfectly.
Three days after scoring two goals against Westhill-Stamford, the senior added two more, including the game-winner at Hamill Rink to move the Rams into a tie for first place in the FCIAC.
“We moved Justin up to forward and he has responded with four goals in two games,” Jones said. “He is so quick to the puck, and tenacious. He is not afraid to go to the front of the net.”
That is where Wietfeldt was 20 seconds after the Rams (13-2-1, 8-1 FCIAC) went on the power play late in third period. And when teammate Nick Megdanis managed to send a nice pass from behind the goal out to Wietfeldt, the senior forward knew just what to do with the puck.
“We had the momentum and needed to put one in,” Wietfeldt said. “Nick went around to the back of the net and threw it out front. I was falling down as I got the puck but it went over (Greenwich goalie Charlie Zolin’s) pads.”
Four minutes and one second later Greenwich’s unbeaten league record was blemished. The Cardinals (11-6-1, 8-1) now find themselves in what is basically a three-way tie atop the standings with New Canaan and 7-1 Darien. The Rams and Cards each have two games left: New Canaan home vs. Wilton and at McMahon-Norwalk; Greenwich at Staples and home vs. St. Joseph; Darien at McMahon-Norwalk and home vs. Fairfield Co-Op and 7-2 Ridgefield.
Ridgefield is the defending champion and if Darien should lose that game while the Rams and Cards win out, New Canaan would get the top seed based on today’s victory.
As far as tiebreakers, all are 1-1 against each other: Greenwich beat Darien, which beat New Canaan, which beat Greenwich. So there is a good chance that for the second year in a row the top three seeds will be decided by a coin flip.
“It’s definitely an easier road if we’re first,” Greenwich coach Chris Rurak said of the FCIAC Tournament, which begins with quarterfinal games on Feb. 29. The top two teams get a bye and won’t play until March 4.
“We were not at our best tonight but we can learn from it,” Rurak said. “I’ve always said that a loss at the right time of year can be a win.”
If today’s loss was a “win” for Greenwich, then it was a BIG victory for New Canaan.
“This win was much needed, to come back like this after a bad loss to Darien,” Wietfeldt said of Saturday’s 10-2 setback.
“Since we lost to Darien we’ve responded well with two wins,” Jones added after his team was outshot, 25-21, by the Cards. “When we can sustain pressure down low we’re really good. Both goalies played well but the power play we got late was big.”
There were only three penalties called in the game and all went against Greenwich. The last one — a crosschecking call on John Cataldo that sent the Rams’ Bennett Ong head first into the boards and set up Wietfeldt’s goal — was pivotal.
“That was tough,” Rurak said of the penalty call. “But I’m sure (the call) was warranted.”
New Canaan took the lead 4:43 into the first period when Shane Mettler streaked down the left side and beat Zolin (19 saves) with a wrist shot. But 59 seconds later Greenwich got even when Ben Bates flicked a shot from the point past an obviously screened Rams goalie Beau Johnson (23 saves).
The Rams then went ahead 2-1 5:50 into the second period when Wietfeldt took a pass from Mettler and broke in alone on Zolin.
“I was surprised I was so open on that breakaway,” Wietfeldt said. “I just shot up ice and (Mettler) made a great pass.”
That lead lasted less than three minutes. Ryan Columbo got the equalizer by batting a rebound past Johnson from 15 feet in front of the goal.
That left it up to the Rams’ newest forward, Wietfeldt, and his linemate Megdanis, who got the assist on the winning goal. Maybe the coach should have been credited with one, too.