By Emery Filmer
When the final buzzer sounded ending the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference boys hockey championship game between Darien and Greenwich back on March 8, there was a considerable feeling of emptiness that went through the sellout crowd at Terry Conners Rink.
The fans didn’t want it to end.
The coaches felt the same way.
“When we shook hands after the game,” Darien coach Chris Gerwig said about his team’s 5-3 victory, “I told (Greenwich coach Bob Russel) hopefully we’ll get a chance to do it again.”
The wishes of the fans and coaches have come true. Darien and Greenwich, thanks to semifinal victories Wednesday, will meet again, this time in the state Division 1 championship Saturday at 2 p.m. at Yale University’s Ingalls Rink.
But this is more than just a rematch of FCIAC powers. It is a clash between two of the top teams in the state, both hungry — no, starving — for a state championship. Darien thought it had ended its long drought a year ago but ended up losing in overtime to Fairfield Prep, a loss that extended the Blue Wave’s inexplicable streak to 45 years without a state crown despite being a consistent title contender.
Greenwich, meanwhile, has gone 23 years without reaching a final. The Cardinals beat Prep in the 1992 state championship game in their last appearance.
Saturday one streak will end; one will agonizingly continue.
The winner will become the first FCIAC team to win the Division 1 title since Trinity Catholic in 1998.
“It will be hard to have a loser,” Gerwig said. “But it should be an electric atmosphere Saturday.”
Darien and Prep played before a sellout crowd last March at Ingalls Rink and, based on the full house at Terry Conners for the FCIAC final, another sellout crowd of around 5,000 is expected Saturday.
“I’m thrilled we got a shot to play (at Ingalls) on Wednesday,” Russel said, referring to Greenwich’s 5-4 overtime victory over Glastonbury. “But the key for us is to treat it like any other game. We can’t go in there thinking that we’ll never get this chance again.”
While playing at Yale’s historic arena was a new experience for the top-seeded Cardinals (21-2-2), it is the fourth year in a row Gerwig’s Blue Wave have gotten there. Darien made the Final Four in 2013 before losing in last year’s final. In 2012 the Blue Wave reached the quarterfinals, which were also played at Ingalls that year.
“I hope our experience there will help us,” Gerwig said. “But you can throw everything that has happened so far out the window now.”
The two teams tied 3-3 during the regular season at Greenwich before Darien won its first FCIAC crown since 2008 two weeks ago. Darien was totally outplayed in the first period but then outscored the Cardinals, 4-0, in the second period and held on for a 5-3 victory.
In the state tournament the No. 2 seed Darien (22-2-1) defeated No. 15 St. Joseph 7-1, No. 7 Ridgefield 3-1, and No. 3 Xavier 3-1. Greenwich, meanwhile eliminated No. 16 South Windsor 4-1 and No. 9 Prep 5-2 before getting past No. 4 Glastonbury in overtime.
“Anytime you can win in the state playoffs, it’s great,” Russel said. “On Wednesday we were down 1-0, then 2-1, then up 3-2, then down 4-3. Glastonbury was a terrific team but Darien has a lot of weapons. I have tremendous respect for them and we will have to play really well to have a chance.”
Darien will be led by its top line of Jack Pardue, Jake Kirby and Craig Miller that has combined for 120 points in 25 games. Nick Tuzinkiewicz and Aiden Loh power the defense, which has really played well in the postseason in front of big-time goalie Will Massie.
Greenwich also has a high-scoring first line with Matt Lodato, Montana Larson and Brian Silard piling up goals. But it has been the Cardinals’ second line of Kristian Cunningham, Mike Mozian and Calvin McKinney that has been the highest-scoring unit in the postseason.
Greenwich goalie Bryan Archino, who has allowed more than three goals in a game just twice — once in the FCIAC final against Darien — will rely on help from a defense led by Colin Kelly and Kevin Piotrzkowski.
That defensive unit was not at its best during the second period of the FCIAC final, but Russel is not expecting that to happen again Saturday.
“A lot of things bounced their way (in the FCIAC final),” Russel said. “That’s not to take anything away from the way they played but we got complacent, lethargic. It was just one of those periods where all of their stuff worked. That doesn’t happen all the time.”
Stuff has worked a lot this year for Darien. Yes, things may have bounced the Blue Wave’s way, but after 46 years of bouncing the other way, why not?
“For a prestigious program like ours, it’s a 46-year itch,” Gerwig said. “I really want to win it for the alumni, the community, the school and the current players. Maybe now it’s our time.”
There is a similar sentiment at Greenwich.
“Once it goes beyond 10 years, does it matter if it’s been 10 years or 50 years?” Russel asked. “It’s something we all dream about every year. When the stars align and you get a shot, it’s rare, so hopefully we can capitalize.”