Photo: Matthew Brown / Hearst Connecticut Media
Image 1 of 2
New Canaan goalie Blythe Novick, seen here blocking away a shot, is one of the New Canaan freshmen experiencing her first state playoffs.
Photo: Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticut Media
Image 2 of 2
Darien senior captain Sally Cassidy will try to help lead Darien to its third-straight state title.

DARIEN—The three-team race for the FCIAC is over.

Watching Greenwich, New Canaan and Darien battle all year, it was obvious one of the three would end up crowned conference champion.

After the Rams and Blue Wave delivered a class in the semifinal round—a 3-2 double overtime win for New Canaan—the Cardinals defeated the Rams 2-1 to claim the FCIAC crown.

The FCIAC playoffs were everything the conference could have hoped they would be, but now we turn the page.

“We didn’t lose because of lack of effort,” New Canaan coach Rich Bulan said. “We outshot them, we were all over the place. That’s just the way the game goes, they got two goals when they needed to and we just couldn’t get it in the net; there was no down period, that’s over, what do we got next?”

What comes next is states, and the field is wide open.

The big three of the FCIAC will no-doubt have their chances to take home the title, but Bulan wouldn’t be surprised if one of the upstate teams ends Darien’s two-year reign.

“A lot of people that don’t follow girls hockey don’t understand that not only did we get better and the FCIAC teams got better, we’ve ahd a rivalry with Simsbury over the years and a big one with Hamden,” Bulan said. “Darien has played West Haven and Hamden, they’ve got a good rivalry with them. Even Simsbury, Hall-Conard, East Catholic, Amity—it’s branched out.”

Darien and New Canaan will both play in the quarterfinals Friday at the Darien Ice House. No. 2 Darien will host No. 10 Simsbury at 5:50 p.m. and No. 3 New Canaan faces off with No. 6 West Haven at the conclusion of the first matchup.

Darien hasn’t played Simsbury this year, but as a reference point, New Canaan did twice, winning 3-1 and 4-3. Similarly, the Rams haven’t played West Haven, but Darien did, winning 4-1 early in the season. If both teams win, it would set up another rivalry semifinal battle.

Top-ranked Greenwich meanwhile is on the other side of the bracket, meaning the Wave or Rams wouldn’t see the Cards until the finals.

A similarity in all three teams that has directly led to their success is the influx of young talent on the rosters.

Their talent isn’t a question, but playoff-time can create a culture shock in freshmen. After the emotional FCIAC tournament however, they should be conditioned for the chaotic environment.

“I think it was a real eye-opener for the intensity level of it,” Bulan said. “And being that we had two big rivalry games, I think that helped them a bunch.”

Time will tell, and there’s not a second of any game between these teams that the girls won’t need their A-game—which comes as no surprise to Bulan.

“I’ve always said, if you take us, Darien, Greenwich, Ridgefield and Amity, Simsbury, West Haven, Suffield, East Catholic, throw those teams in a hat,” he said. “And you’re just going to get an unbelievable game.”

aparelli@bcnnew.com @reportedbytheAP