DARIEN — For a long stretch of tonight’s FCIAC Division I semifinal against rival New Canaan, starting with the second period, the Darien hockey team played like a group that was a preseason No. 1, lost two of its first three games and was peaking with a four-game winning streak in pursuit of a single postseason title.
The Blue Wave swarmed the net, applied relentless pressure and took advantage of its speed.
And by the time the players afforded themselves a break to look at the scoreboard to see the fruits of their labor, there was just a 1-0 lead.
“The second period was our period,” Darien coach Mac Budd said. “The fact that we had that much pressure and only came away with one goal was a huge moment.”
In an outcome that soon appeared foreshadowed, the Rams rallied, and Jack Johnson’s goal, off a set up from Boden Gammill, 6:17 into overtime gave them a 2-1 win and the opportunity on Saturday to defend their conference title.
“We played our hearts out,” Johnson said. “We wanted to go to net and we were going to pump one in eventually. Boden Gammill made a great play and I was right there lucky enough to bang it home.”
New Canaan will face third-seeded Greenwich in Saturday’s final. The Cardinals defeated Fairfield Co-Op, 3-2, in tonight’s other semifinal.
Johnson’s opportunity was also provided in part by his younger brother, Beau, who was sensational in goal for the fourth-seeded Rams (7-6-1). Johnson, who as a freshman a year ago was the championship MVP, stopped 32 shots tonight. One of his last denied Blue Wave star Sam Erickson early in overtime.
“Beau made every first save he had to make,” New Canaan coach Clark Jones said. “Over the last couple of games we’ve defended very well. So those second-chance opportunities that we were giving up a ton of before are not happening now. That’s just a five-man unit commitment to defend in your own zone.”
After a 3-1-1 start, the Rams entered the playoffs having lost five of seven games. The goals against average was solid but the success putting together an offense proved a struggle.
“Goals have been hard to come by for us,” Jones said. “They got a weird bounce on their goal and then we got a little bit of a bounce on our tying goal. Then it just comes down to someone making a play and Boden made a great play to Jack to end the game.”
New Canaan came out lively to start the game, but Darien goaltender Teddy DeBeradinis made a couple of nice stops and the opening period ended scoreless.”
“There were a couple of key moments in the game,” Budd said. “From the start they came out and put us on our heels clearly. I thought for us, to be able to get through that without allowing them to score was a big moment for us, and I thought the momentum would change. Fortunately it was not a 1-0 or 2-0 game already.”
Darien (8-4-2) finally broke through at 12:20 of the second period, just after the start of a power play. Sam Erickson from the right side took a shot toward goal and Teddy Dyer deflected it past Johnson for a 1-0 lead.
Jack Johnson said the Rams looked at the deficit as just a temporary setback.
“Beau was hanging in there,” Johnson said. “He’s a really good goalie and we had him backed the whole way through. We were just reinforcing to all the guys, especially the younger guys, that we could make it happen, we just have to keep pushing, to never let up, even down by one.”
Jack Eccleston, who has had a sensational season, got the equalizer for the Rams at 8:35 of the third period, setting the stage for Jack Johnson’s heroics.
New Canaan came in with a tie and loss to the Blue Wave, the latter a 4-1 decision 12 days ago.
“Mac and I talk about this all the time, any time we play Darien we hope it’s just an epic battle,” Jones said. “The last time we didn’t give them a very good game and this time was a great game.”