By Emery Filmer
STAMFORD – When the buzzer sounded officially sealing Darien’s 2-0 boys hockey victory over New Canaan, Blue Wave coach Chris Gerwig watched his players pile onto goalie Will Massie in the type of celebration usually reserved for championship teams.
This was, after all, merely the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference semifinals. Any championship celebration can’t happen until Saturday night’s FCIAC final is over.
Premature, you ask? Don’t try telling that to anyone wearing the royal blue and white Wednesday at Terry Conners Rink.
“I can’t blame them for the celebration,” Gerwig said afterwards. “We just knocked out the defending champions.”
Well, there’s actually more to it than that. New Canaan was indeed the defending FCIAC champs. The Rams’ 5-2 win at this time last year over Darien – the No. 1 team in the state at the time – was a painful experience for the Blue Wave, not just because of the loss but because it came against their arch-rival. It was New Canaan’s third league title in five years while Darien has been waiting for an FCIAC championship celebration since 2008.
“There’s definitely still a little grudge,” Massie said after recording the shutout Wednesday with 18 saves. “New Canaan took the rings right off of our fingers last year. We didn’t forget that.”
Darien (18-2-1), the tournament’s second seed, wasn’t going to be denied Wednesday. Saturday? That’s a potential different story as the Blue Wave will have to beat the state’s No. 1-ranked team, Greenwich, which defeated St. Joseph, 5-1, in Wednesday’s second game. But the Blue Wave will worry about that then. For now, it’s time to bask in the glory of beating your long-time rival three times in one season.
Darien beat New Canaan 6-3 on Dec. 27 and then 4-2 on Jan. 17. But it was the one before that stuck in their craw.
“This is an intense rivalry,” Gerwig said. “It’s hard to beat anyone three times, especially against a rival. Now I feel we’re due. It’s our time.”
Darien overcame a sluggish start to take a 1-0 lead late in the first period. Max Romeyn took a centering pass from Carter Joyce and tapped it past Rams goalie Liam Mooney 10:16 into the first period. New Canaan (12-7-3), the No. 3 seed, had the better of play for the first 10 minutes and nearly scored when Massie stoned New Canaan’s Kyle Mettler from point-blank range four minutes into the contest.
“In that first period we were the better team,” New Canaan coach Pat Gore said. “But we couldn’t get the lead.”
“New Canaan outplayed us in the first period,” Gerwig added. “They had played Saturday (a 3-2 double-overtime, first-round win over Fairfield) and we hadn’t played in a while. We looked flat.”
Darien had a first-round bye.
Then, just 32 seconds into the second period, Darien took a 2-0 lead. Darien’s Jake Kirby was behind the net and in Gretzky-like fashion fed Craig Miller with a perfect pass in front, a play Mooney (12 saves) had no chance on.
“That second goal was like a bolt of energy for us,” Gerwig said. “And with the way my goalie was playing . . .”
After that Darien did not sit back in a defensive mode in an attempt to protect the two-goal lead. The Blue Wave outshot New Canaan, 5-1, in the first five minutes of the third period.
“Once we got our legs, we were on our way,” Gerwig said. “In the third period we were never on our heels. To keep a team like that off the board is a tribute to us.”
New Canaan outshot Darien 8-4 in the middle period but stared at a two-goal deficit entering the final period. The way Massie has been playing in goal of late, it seemed as if it was a much larger deficit than that.
“Will is one of the hottest goalies in the state right now,” Gore said. “But still, at 2-0, I told our guys that whichever team scored the next goal was going to win.”
The next goal never happened, but you get the picture.
“We didn’t play desperate enough until the end,” Gore added. The Rams had four of their five third-period shots in the final two minutes.
“If they had scored in the third period we might have been in trouble,” said Massie, who also turned aside what appeared to be a sure goal by the Rams’ Tyler Hill in the final minutes.
But the Darien defense, led by Nick Tuzinkiewicz and Aidan Loh, wasn’t going to budge. Not with a chance to avenge last year’s loss in the FCIAC. Now the question begs: After avenging last year’s loss in the FCIAC final to their arch-rival, will the Blue Wave be ready for Saturday night’s final?
“I think my grandmother can coach this team in the finals,” Gerwig said, regarding his team’s readiness level. “Now we have to go get what we thought was rightfully ours last year.”