GREENWICH — Chris Schofield, the Darien hockey team’s sophomore goaltender, has spent his first season as a starter honing his skills for games like tonight.
Facing Greenwich in the semifinals of the FCIAC Tournament, Schofield was under constant pressure throughout the first period yet never let a puck get behind him. That set the tone for the Blue Wave to take an early lead and come away with a 2-1 win at Dorothy Hamill Rink when Matt Stein’s pass in front of the net was tipped in by Bennett McDermott with 6:56 remaining.
The Cardinals went on a power play with 2:36 left but were unable to tie the game.
“A really good job by the penalty kill,” Darien coach Mac Budd said. “As they say on the penalty kill, your best player has to be your goalie and our best player tonight was clearly Schofield. He made some great saves, particularly in the first period. I felt like in the first period they could have put two goals in and it would have been a different game, and he came up real big for us all night. He’s done that all season.”
Darien (18-4), the No. 3 seed, will face top-seeded New Canaan in Saturday’s final. The Rams defeated Ridgefield tonight in double overtime, 3-2.
Schofield said his education started in practices a year ago and intensified the past two months.
“Playing a lot of games really helps, playing against the best teams in the state,” Schofield said. “It has really helped me grow, my skills.”
Schofield had less to say about his own effort in the first period than the score by Teddy Dyer with two minutes left that gave the Blue Wave a 1-0 lead.
“That was big,” Schofield said. “That first period if we didn’t score that goal we might not have won the game.”
Budd said the improvements in Schofield’s game have been obvious and played into tonight’s win. One of Schofield’s biggest saves came against the Cardinals’ Ivan Kovalev.
“In my mind his biggest growth is in two different areas,” Budd said. “First of all he’s a lot more comfortable handling the puck, which in high school hockey really helps your team to start the breakout. And I think he’s done a much better job on rebound control, which is obviously huge. The saves that he makes, not only does he make the initial save but he’s kicking the rebounds out to the corner, which is a good thing.”
There was little separation between the Blue Wave and second-seeded Greenwich (14-7-1), which has become one of the league’s best rivalries.
“It was a great game,” Greenwich coach Chris Rurak said. “The effort was there. In the big games it’s the little mistakes that catch you. You send the message that little things add up to big things. Just two little mental lapses we had and they capitalized on their chances. We also had chances and we didn’t capitalize. Their goalie played a good game. In the first period I think he stopped three point-blank shots.”
Jack Hutchins tied the game for the Cardinals at 2:54 of the second period, and then came a continuation of open but tense play that was finally decided by McDermott.
“I think that play was Stein, he’s a really smart player and that was a smart play,” Budd said. “It looked like Stein saw him on the backdoor for a tip and that was a huge goal for us.”
It will be hard for Saturday’s final to top tonight’s action.
“That was a great high school hockey game,” Budd said. “It had a little bit of everything. It had really, really good end to end play, some superb saves. I thought it was a fast game, a lot of skill, but it was also a pretty physical game. And obviously a very evenly played game so we’re happy with the W tonight.”