GREENWICH — With the regular season winding down and the postseason rapidly approaching, it is time for teams with championship aspirations to be at their absolute best.
Darien boys hockey coach Mac Budd saw that type of performance from his team today against rival Greenwich — and he hopes it’s a sign of good things to come.
Unlike the first meeting when the Blue Wave and Cardinals combined for 11 goals, one was enough to decide today’s rematch.
Senior forward James Conway’s goal with 9:09 remaining in the first period propelled Darien past Greenwich, 1-0, at Dorothy Hamill Skating Rink.
The win upped Darien’s record to 4-3-2 over all and 4-1-2 in FCIAC play. Currently in second place in Division I of the FCIAC, the Blue Wave play New Canaan, Ridgefield and St. Joseph to close out the regular season.
Tuesday’s win against Greenwich had a postseason-type feel to it, with the intensity level high throughout.
“There is no doubt about it, this was one of our best games of the season,” Budd said. “It seems like every game in the FCIAC you have to be at your best for three periods or you are not going to win. And even when you are at your best, you come out with a 1-0 win.”
The Blue Wave has been accustomed to playing in tight matchups so far this season. It lost to Notre Dame-West Haven in overtime, tied New Canaan, played Fairfield Co-Op to a tie and lost to Fairfield by one goal.
“I’m happy for the guys that we won one of these close games, they deserved it,” Budd said.
Greenwich, which celebrated its Senior Day while riding a three-game winning streak, sports a 4-3 record and is in third place. Two of the Cardinals’ three losses are to Darien. The Cardinals, who were outshot 31-20, received 30 saves from junior goalie Charlie Zolin.
“Darien played a really good game, they were sharp tonight,” Greenwich coach Jack Duffy said. “They were playing tough in their offensive end and our defensive end. I think they were firing on all cylinders. Charlie did a great job, because they had a lot of opportunities, but I think Darien played an excellent game tonight.”
Controlling the puck, which bounded off the boards behind the net, Conway converted a quick one-timer from the right faceoff circle, going top shelf and giving Darien a 1-0 lead. Conway was in the right place at exactly the right time, as the puck bounced right to him and he found himself 1-on-1 with Zolin.
The Blue Wave had opportunities to increase its advantage, with senior Sam Erickson and junior Patrick Thurlow registering shots, but Zolin kept it a one-goal game.
“It was a pretty physical game, it was a fast game and I thought we controlled the puck most of the time,” Conway said. “They played well and their goalie stood on his head; he had a bunch of good saves for them.”
Greenwich’s best moments came during the second period, registering 10 shots on goal. Blue Wave goalie Chris Schofield made a key save off a shot from the point by Greenwich defenseman Chris Cataldo early in the second period, then covered up a rebound off a scramble in front of the net several minutes later. Wesley Zolin and Thatcher Danielson also tested Schofield during the second period, which saw the Blue Wave kill two power plays.
“Schofield was solid, he was great,” Budd said. “I thought we did a pretty good job of containing them and I thought when we needed Schofield to step up and make saves, he did. I was happy with the way everyone played. It is a good win against a good team that’s playing very, very well.”
Zolin stopped 11 more shots in the second period for the Cardinals, who have allowed only five goals in their last four games.
“We had a bit of a slow start in trying to find our game, we weren’t being physical enough, but we found our stride toward the end of the second period and started to be more physical,” said Greenwich defenseman Ben Bates. “It’s definitely not our best game, but we are looking forward to playing them in the future. I feel like we came out better in the second period, but we definitely could have still gotten more shots on net.”
Added Duffy: “I don’t think we were satisfied with our play in the first period and we came out in the second period and got more opportunities. It was a low scoring game and that’s good from a defensive standpoint, but we’ve got to start banging some pucks home.”
Darien plays arch rival New Canaan on Saturday, while Greenwich visits Westhill-Stamford on Thursday.
“Heading into the stretch, you want to be playing your best hockey and I think we are,” Budd said. “We took a few lumps and had a few tough losses and I think we learned from those. We came out flying in the first period, it was absolutely a great period, maybe the best period we played all year. This was another unbelievable high school hockey game, with both teams battling hard. I’d love it if we can keep playing like this for another three weeks.”