By Emery Filmer
STAMFORD – The between-periods adjustments Darien coach Chris Gerwig made might have made a difference. Certainly the way the puck bounced played a part in the surprising turnaround. But the main reason for what happened during the second period of Saturday’s Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference boys hockey championship game was easy to pinpoint:
The Blue Wave were not going to lose a championship game for the third time in the last 12 months.
After being dominated by Greenwich in the opening period, the Blue Wave pulled off an amazing reversal of fortune and outscored the Cardinals, 4-0, in the second period and went on to a 5-3 victory before a sellout crowd at Terry Conners Rink to capture their first league championship in seven years.
“After what happened last year, we needed to do something about it,” Darien goalie and game MVP Will Massie said after the triumph.
Last year, as the state’s No. 1-ranked team, Darien lost to arch-rival New Canaan in the FCIAC final before dropping a heartbreaking decision in overtime to Fairfield Prep in the state Division 1 championship, a game that would have ended the school’s 45-year state title drought.
So, when top-seed Greenwich, this year’s No. 1 team in the state, outplayed them in the first period, it was a wake-up call for the second-seeded Blue Wave, the No. 2 team in the state.
“I told them after the first period not to push the panic button,” Gerwig said. While Greenwich (18-2-2) led just 2-1 after the first period, the Blue Wave knew they were lucky not to be trailing by three or four goals. “In the second period we made some adjustments and went to our bread-and-butter 1-2-2 forechecking plan. And then we just erupted. We did just about everything perfectly after the first period.”
It was one thing for the Blue Wave (19-2-1) to score four goals in one period after looking like they would get blown out early. But to do it against a team such as Greenwich — one that had allowed just 35 goals in 21 games this season prior to Saturday — was incredible. Greenwich had allowed more than three goals in a game once all season, and that was four. Darien scored four in 13 minutes Saturday.
“Momentum can be a powerful thing,” Greenwich coach Bob Russel said. “We had a really good first period but it could’ve easily been worse. It should’ve been 3-0 at least and if it’s 3-0 it would’ve been a very boring game the rest of the way because we would’ve just dumped it in and have everyone back. But sometimes the puck bounces the wrong way.”
After Greenwich took a 1-0 lead four minutes into the game on Colin Kelly’s shot from the right faceoff circle, Darien tied it when Scott Voigt’s shot from the point deflected in past Greenwich goalie Bryan Archino (16 saves) four minutes later. But 21 seconds after Voigt’s goal, the Cards regained the lead when Donald Curran batted a rebound past Massie (17 saves). Greenwich outshot Darien, 11-4, in the opening period and probably by a 7-1 margin in legitimate scoring chances.
“Everything went right in the first period,” Russel said. “But after a period like that, sometimes guys think, ‘OK, we got this.’ ”
Greenwich did indeed look like a different team in the second period. So did Darien.
“In the first period we had no momentum to match their intensity,” Darien’s Nick Tuzinkiewicz said. Tuzinkiewicz was one of five Darien goal scorers but the only one who also added an assist. “So we knew we had to come out with more intensity and put some bodies on the net.”
After Sam Knowlton tied it just 1:25 into the middle period on a tip-in, Tuzinkiewicz gave Darien the lead four minutes later on a shot from an impossible angle.
“I put a shot on net and then went for the rebound behind the goal,” Tuzinkiewicz said. “I figured if you throw it in front good things happen. So I did and the puck hit (Archino) in the back and went in.”
Darien outshot Greenwich, 4-0, in the first five minutes of the period, then by a 7-1 margin before ending the period with an 11-4 advantage.
“We charged up our forecheck but a lot of what happened (in the second period) was emotion,” said Massie, who was the losing goaltender in each of last year’s championship games.
After Tuzinkiewicz’ goal, Jake Kirby scored with 3:40 remaining in the period off a rebound and Max Romeyn rifled a shot from the slot past Archino to make it 5-2 with 40 seconds remaining in the period.
“It was one of those periods,” Russel said. “That last goal in the final minute was very frustrating. Big difference being down two goals or three.”
The four goals Darien scored were a major shock, considering that Archino has been one of the top goalies in the state this season.
“The puck bounced the right way for Darien,” Russel said. “But sometimes a goalie needs to make some timely saves.”
Even after Matt Lodato scored on a breakaway with 6:29 left in regulation, the Blue Wave weren’t going to be denied. Lodato’s goal was one of just four shots on goal by Greenwich in the final 15 minutes.
“Mission accomplished,” Gerwig said. “After last year, this is about as sweet as it can get for this program.”
NOTES: The championship was the eighth all-time for Darien, which is riding a 15-game unbeaten streak (14-0-1). Greenwich, which has won 10 FCIAC titles, last won in 2009. … Darien got to the final with a 2-0 win over New Canaan while Greenwich beat St. Joseph 5-1. … The two teams tied 3-3 during the regular season on Feb. 3 in Greenwich. … Darien, the No. 2 seed, opens state tournament play Wednesday against No. 15 St. Joseph at 7 p.m. at the Darien Ice Rink. No. 1 Greenwich will host No. 16 South Windsor Wednesday at 5:30 p.m.