GREENWICH — Last season saw the Greenwich and New Canaan boys hockey teams duel in two one-goal games. with the Rams winning both matchups, but tonight the Cardinals got a close contest to go their way, courtesy of the Zolin brothers.
Charlie Zolin took care of business in the Cardinals’ zone, while his twin brother Wesley was impressive in the Rams’ end, resulting in a significant early-season win for Greenwich.
Wesley Zolin’s first-period goal and Charlie’s 31 saves propelled Greenwich to a hard-fought 1-0 win at Dorothy Hamill Skating Rink.
“We played hard, we played physical and we grinded it out,” said Charlie Zolin, a junior who faced a lot of pressure from the Rams’ aggressive forward lines, especially during the third period. “Now we just want to keep building off of this win.”
New Canaan (3-2-1) received 29 saves from sophomore Beau Johnson. The Rams generated scoring opportunities throughout, with their best moments coming in the third period.
“We played physical, but we don’t do it enough,” said New Canaan assistant coach Scott Linde, who helped lead the team in the absence of head coach Clark Jones, who is in quarantine for precautionary reasons. “I think we are a little bit easy to play against. We don’t get traffic in those tough areas and we have to do a better job of taking a hit to make a play. Those are the things that we did last year and that is what made us successful.”
Wesley Zolin scored the game’s lone goal with 11:26 remaining in the first period, which helped set the tone early for the Cards. Positioned deep in the right faceoff circle, Zolin knocked in a rebound off a shot from junior forward Liam Matthews, giving Greenwich a 1-0 lead. Senior Jack Hutchins helped set up the tally by intercepting a pass deep in the Rams’ zone.
“We got the puck down deep, it was early in the game and we were keeping up the high pace,” Wesley Zolin said of his goal. “We went hard to the puck and we put some bodies on the puck. It was Hutchins who intercepted the puck and gave it to Matthews and I picked it up around the back door area and I put it in hard.”
The Cardinals’ junior forward emphasized the importance of getting an early lead on the Rams.
“It was really significant, especially coming off that Ridgefield loss it gave us some sort of intensity and that allowed us to keep it going the rest of the game,” Wesley Zolin said. “The rest of the game, we kept battling and kept up that high pace.”
Both teams had one power play opportunity in the opening period, but they effectively killed each penalty and the score remained 1-0. Sophomore defenseman Shane Mettler tested Zolin with a shot early in the Rams’ first-period power play and positioned between the circles, sophomore Brendan Briggs snapped a shot toward Zolin, who snatched the puck out of the air with 2:16 to go in the opening period.
In the second period, Greenwich forwards Jake Shreders, Dylan Kronengold, Hutchins and Brendan Frost threatened to extend the Cardinals’ edge, but Johnson stepped up with clutch saves to keep it a one-goal game.
“I think we’re playing pretty well,” Johnson said. “I know in the future games we are going to clean certain things up. The season is short, we have to at some time.”
The final period featured physical play from both teams, which combined for nine penalties, five by Greenwich and four by New Canaan. In the final frenetic two minutes of play, the Rams desperately tried to knot the score, putting plenty of traffic in front of the net.
“It was very chaotic the last couple of minutes of the game,” Charlie Zolin said. “We did a good job of getting the puck out of our zone. We kept the puck out of the net and we did a good job playing strong.”
Greenwich’s goalie credited the defensemen and his coach for keeping the Rams off the scoreboard.
“During the power plays, I didn’t get a lot of shots,” he said. “Coach (Jack) Duffy was helping us out he watched a lot of film on their power play, so we were able to get everything out and keep the shots out.”
Johnson also kept the game hanging in the balance, as he scrambled to make significant third-period saves.
“We rely on our goaltending a lot, which is good, but we have to make some plays and take it to the other team,” Linde said. “I thought our penalty kill did a good job, but we took a couple of bad penalties in the second period. Teams are looking at us as the defending FCIAC champions, so we have a target on our backs. We have a very talented team, but we need to focus on being tough to play against, meaning team defense, to make plays, getting traffic in front of the other team’s net.”
Gaining rhythm has been a bit difficult for Greenwich, which played only two games entering tonight.
“We haven’t had a good pattern yet, but the boys have been resilient, and we are starting to put some things together,” Duffy said. “We played for 45 minutes today for the first time all year. It was a nice W.