If ever a goaltender deserved to win a game, it would have been this one.
senior Zach Carrano was herculean in net during Saturday's FCIAC championship game against New Canaan, making an astonishing 61 saves, including 23 in the third period, when he faced an avalanche of pressure.
But the Rams kept coming in waves, showing why they are the state's top-ranked team.
New Canaan erased a two-goal deficit in the third period before David Crandall scored 3:49 into overtime to give the Rams a pulsating 4-3 victory at the Terry Conners Rink.
Playing in their first FCIAC final, the Cadets were part of a classic high school hockey game, but ended up on the wrong end of the score after taking a 3-1 lead into the final period.
"It's just tough, to come out like we did and have it after the second period," Carrano said. "I knew we had it, but we showed our history. It was kind of tough for us to avoid it."
Saturday reminded Carrano of last year's state final against Amity, when the Cadets suffered a 6-5 loss after squandering a three-goal lead in the third period.
Still, St. Joseph thought it had scored the game-winner Saturday with just 34 seconds remaining after Conor Crouse was allowed to skate in all alone.
However, the goal was nullified due to a crease violation. Cadets coach Marty Crouse thought his son was pushed into the crease by a New Canaan player.
"We get pushed into the crease, into the goalie, and they call it back," Marty Crouse said. "That's a penalty on them and a goal. It should have been rewarded. It's a call, their judgement call. You have to go by (the referees') decision."
Of course, New Canaan also had an apparent go-ahead goal waived off two minutes earlier due to a high-sticking call.
On Crandall's game-winner, the puck hit a number of sticks before finding its way into the net, a bitter ending for the Cadets
"(Carrano) didn't see it," the elder Crouse said. "We didn't clear the zone with the puck and that caused a turnover in our end. You can't expect (Carrano) to stop everything. The goalie is only so big."
"I went down," Carrano added. "It snuck under my pads somehow. What are you going to do?"
St. Joseph was outplayed by New Canaan in two regular-season meetings, losing 6-2 and 5-2, but the Cadets were ready for the Rams this time.
They came out looking to play a physical style and the strategy worked as they seemed to get the Rams off their game. The first period featured five penalties and a lot of contact after the whistles.
But the contest started ominously for St. Joseph with New Canaan scoring on its first shot when Jimmy Joe Granito's floater from the blue line beat Carrano to the glove side.
However, the Cadets tied it on the power play at 3:03, when Pat Corcoran banged in Ryan Parsons' rebound for the first of his two goals.
Just 75 seconds into the second period, St. Joseph converted on the power play again as Corcoran one-timed a blast from the left faceoff circle inside the near post.
St. Joseph made it 3-1 when Christian Keator beat Rams goaltender Tim Nowacki (28 saves) on a wraparound at 9:26.
In an unaccustomed position, the Rams came out in the third period and fired everything at Carrano. They also crashed the net and got more rebounds.
Through 30 minutes, St. Joseph did a superb job of limited second chances, but New Canaan's efforts paid off when Dylan Hart scored on a rebound to make it 3-2 at 1:54 of the third.
"They got a couple lucky bounces, capitalized on their chances," Carrano said. "I had them all game, but they ended up getting them when it counted the most."
Jake Granito then tied it at 8:47 on a wraparound, setting the stage for the frantic final few minutes of regulation. According to Marty Crouse, the Cadets may have become too concerned with protecting the lead in the third period, when New Canaan outshot them by a whopping 25-5.
"You allow enough shots eventually something is going to go in," he said. "We should have buried a few more chances that we had. We let them back in. Good teams find ways."
St. Joseph hosts Amity in the first round of the Division I state tournament on Wednesday.