DARIEN — The pieces were in place for the kind of hat trick no one on the New Canaan High School boys hockey team wanted: a third straight first-round exit from the Division 1 state tournament.
The Rams were coming off a 5-2 upset of their biggest rival, Darien, for the FCIAC championship four days earlier. Their opponent on Wednesday night: Northwest Catholic, a team they knew little about.
Then New Canaan jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first 11 1/2 minutes on two goals by Jack O’Rourke.
“In ice hockey you only have to take off two or three seconds and it’s by you, and that’s the way it happens,” Bo Hickey said of the ingredients for a letdown.
On this night it took 16 seconds, just over a minute after O’Rourke’s second goal, for the Indians to score twice and tie the score.
Then came the prototypical between-period Hickey “pep” talk, one similar to what took place after falling behind 1-0 on Saturday against Darien.
Rams captain Harry Stanton summed it up best: “A little screaming, a little motivation, if you want to call it that. He got us going.”
The 7th-seeded Rams answered with three second-period goals and rolled to a convincing 6-2 win.
Except for those 16 seconds, there were no indications of the kind of happy hangover that sometimes follows FCIAC champions into state tournaments.
“We’re unfortunately kind of notorious for a first period like that,” Hickey said. “The other thing is maybe I can blame it on coming off the championship game. A little euphoric still, and as soon as we scored maybe it registered to them we can handle this easily, and all of a sudden it’s 2-2.
“I wasn’t a real happy camper. Basically I explained to them in monosyllable words my feelings.”
The Rams have won 18 conference titles, 10 under Hickey. Surprisingly, they are 1-10 in state finals. They haven’t been to one since 2006. The win came in 1972.
The New Canaan players have little concern for team history, at least in a broad scope. They just know they hadn’t reached the second round since 2011, when they advanced to the semifinals.
“This is our best chance really in the last three years to do something big in the state tournament,” said Stanton, who scored both of his goals in the second period, including what proved to be the game-winner on a beautiful feed from Patrick Hompe. “We put a lot of pressure on ourselves, but we also know we can play to a high level.”
Peter Reinhardt also scored twice for New Canaan.
Annoyed by the brief letdown, Hickey was pleased by the overall body of work.
“We got a good effort out of everybody for two periods,” Hickey said. “I can’t complain really. We’re going to play another game.”
Despite the numbers on the scoreboard, there were no indications on the ice that the Rams were taking their opponents lightly.
“You’ve got to win this to get to where you want to be,” Stanton said. “They showed in that 18, 20 seconds that they could put some goals in. They’re here for a reason.”
Referring to the league title, Stanton added, “We can celebrate about that when the season is over. We have to come in here and work hard, just like the first round of FCIACs. We came in after the first period knowing we could play better and we came out strong the second and third periods.”
Next up for the Rams (19-4-1) is second-seeded Notre Dame of West Haven, a team they have beaten twice by one goal.
Like their league title, don’t expect that to be the catalyst for complacency either.
“I think we’re playing well,” Stanton said. “We’ve just got to keep it going.”