Greenwich, St. Joseph square off in FCIAC boys hockey finals
Something certainly has to give when the Greenwich and St. Joseph boys hockey teams square off in their third, and most significant meeting of the season to date, on Saturday.
Opponents couldn’t solve Cadets goalie Ryan Wilson the first two rounds of the FCIAC Tournament, as the sophomore posted a pair of shutouts in his squad’s victories. The Cardinals, who received a first-round bye, also received splendid goaltending, with senior Nick Bozzuto holding Ridgefield scoreless in Wednesday’s tournament semifinals.
Goals may indeed be hard to come by in Saturday’s 3 p.m. FCIAC Tournament final at Terry Conners Rink between the top-seeded Cardinals and sixth-seeded Cadets, though both teams have shown a penchant for scoring in clutch situations.
Greenwich, which lost to Darien in last year’s FCIAC title game, split its two regular-season games against St. Joseph this season.
“We played each other really tight the first two games,” said GHS coach Bob Russel, who guided the Cardinals to the FCIAC title in the 2008-09 season. “We had one real quality goal in our first game against them (a 2-0 win) and they had one real goal in the next game (a 3-0 St. Joseph victory), so we’re expecting another tight one. Defensively, we need to play well again and we need to make them earn everything they get.”
FCIAC Boys Hockey championship
WHO?: Greenwich (18-4) vs. St. Joseph (12-9-1)
WHEN?: Saturday, 3 p.m.
WHERE?: Terry Conners Rink, Stamford
FCIAC TOURNAMENT HISTORY: Greenwich has won 10 FCIAC titles, its most recent coming in 2009. The Cardinals appeared in the finals last winter, losing 5-3 to Darien. St. Joseph is seeking its first FCIAC championship, but has made it to the conference tournament’s title game four times the past seven seasons. The Cadets last appeared in the FCIAC finals in 2013.
SEASON SERIES: Greenwich skated to a 2-0 win over St. Joseph on Jan. 9. The Cadets posted a 3-0 victory over the Cardinals on Feb. 9.
St. Joseph advanced to the FCIAC title game for the fourth time in the last seven seasons by eliminating second-seeded Darien — the conference’s defending champion. Though they were outshot by a wide margin, the Cadets claimed the victory behind 43 saves from Wilson and one goal apiece from Adam Usinger and Sean Attanasio.
“We showed some character battling back against Darien,” said St. Joseph coach JR Bria, whose squad faced a 1-0 deficit in the semifinals. “The first period we went down by one and they outplayed us, but our guys stuck with it, which has kind of been our thing all season.”
The Cadets received a lift from Wilson, who has been a rock-solid between the pipes throughout the season.
“The only reason why I demand so much from Wilson is because he demands so much of himself,” Bria said. “He gets mad at himself when he is scored on — even in warm-ups. It has to be a big shot for the opposition to get one past him.”
Said Russel: “Wilson has been excellent. Shutting out Fairfield and Darien was very impressive and he played well against us all year, as well as other teams. They’re a team that is capable of beating everyone in the state with their goalie and their first line, which is a line that is highly skilled and does a lot of damage.”
Usinger, Nick DiSabella and junior Will Foldesi have powered the Cadets up front, scoring the bulk of their goals.
“Usinger is one of the speedier guys in the league,” Russel said. “If they are going to beat you, they are going to beat you with one of those three guys. They are experienced players, who do the right thing with the puck.”
The Cardinals counter with KC Cunningham, brothers Michael and Alex Mozian, Cal McKinney and Colin Kelly — all of whom have been productive offensively. Cunningham and McKinney, both seniors, have flourished on the first line with freshman Matt Davey. Michael and Alex Mozian, are playmakers on the second line, along with Akira Dunham.
“Greenwich is always great, they do a fantastic job every year,” Bria said. “One of their best attributes is that they know how to find the right guys on the ice. They also are known for coming out flying and getting off to fast starts.”
Bria is impressed with the composure he’s seen from the Cardinals.
“They’re a team that can have a tough first period or tough period, and bounce back,” Bria said. “That’s because of the maturity level on their team. They can be down by two goals, but they’ll be confident they can score three goals in the third period.”
Depth is also a big plus for Greenwich.
“Early in the year we weren’t able to get three lines working quite as well as we have been lately,” Russel said. “Having three strong lines has been an asset for us. Hopefully, we’ll make use of that in the finals.”
Michael Mozian tallied twice, Kelly had one goal and Bozzuto made 26 saves in Greenwich’s 3-0 triumph against Ridgefield in the FCIAC semifinals on Wednesday. Bria knows his goalie and defensemen must be sound once again, on Saturday.
“We’ve been pretty strong in our defensive zone,” Bria said. “We give up shots on goal and at times we’re outshot. But we’ve done a good job of keeping teams on the perimeter and not allowing too many quality shots. Protecting the middle of the ice and limiting legitimate scoring chances have been key for us and we have to continue to do that against a great team like Greenwich.”
Playing in the FCIAC and Division I state finals last season was a valuable experience for his squad going forward, Russel believes.
“It helps that we played in championship games last year,” Russel said. “Competing before a crowd of that size was a huge shock factor for us, but we got out to a great start in the FCIAC finals against Darien last year. Then we ran out of gas a bit and had a rough second period. Against St. Joe, it’s important for us to make sure we are calm, but resolute in our effort to compete every shift — getting the puck in and out and trying to control the puck at areas of the ice we want it.”