At this point in the season, with every point earned coming at a premium, a hard-fought tie between two solid hockey programs like Darien and St. Joseph could be met with nothing but certain approval.
However, after the Cadets and Blue Wave skated to a 4-4 tie Wednesday evening at the Darien Ice Rink, both head coaches couldn’t help but feel their teams let a victory slip away.
Darien (12-1-2 overall, 7-0-1 FCIAC) dominated the early portion of the game, using its tremendous team speed and sustained offensive pressure to build a 3-0 lead halfway through the second period. Junior forward Connor Davis scored two of those for the Blue Wave, which went into the game riding a 9-game winning streak.
But Darien’s momentum was literally smashed later in the second as Dana Wensberg was hit with a major penalty for elbowing, an infraction which will also force the senior defenseman to miss Saturday’s game against Stamford.
St. Joseph (11-4-1 overall, 5-1-1 FCIAC), which also came in red-hot with wins in its previous five games, took full advantage of the five-minute power play, scoring four goals over a span of 2:36 to take a 4-3 lead.
Senior forward Christian Keator, one of the top offensive players in the state, had a hand in all four goals, assisting on the first two by Matt Greenhut and Domonic DeRosa then scoring the final two himself.
At that point, it appeared as if the Cadets were on their way to a wild victory. But the Blue Wave picked itself up off the mat and scored the game-tying goal early in the third period as senior Trent Bergin banged the puck home from an odd angle behind the net.
Neither team could muster much in the way of offense after that.
While Darien head coach Chris Gerwig was frustrated by seeing his team lose a three-goal lead by allowing four goals on a major power play, he was thrilled that the Blue Wave didn’t let the adversity distract them from tying the game.
“I was happy the way we battled back,” Gerwig said. “We could have very easily caved in, but we didn’t. We did a great job just salvaging the tie.”
After the way the game started out, with Darien putting sustained pressure on goal while the Cadets countered periodically with chances in transition, St. Joseph head coach Marty Crouse felt good about getting out of Darien with a point.
The Cadets and Blue Wave are separated by just two points in the FCIAC standings and four points in the Division I state rankings.
“I’m happy with the tie,” Crouse said. “I would have loved to win this one. But I’m not disappointed. From where we came from in the first period, to respond the way we did and capitalize on our chances, we had that one huge power play . . . we did a lot of things right tonight.”
Darien received a solid effort out of junior goalie Michael Colon, who relieved starter Michael Collins after the major penalty in the second period and stopped eight shots in the third and five more in overtime to preserve the tie. One of those saves came on a point-blank denial against Colin Powell in the first minute of the third period after the St. Joseph sophomore broke clear into the slot after carrying the puck out of the corner.
“I have the luxury of having three very good goaltenders, and I feel as if I can put any of them in there at any time,” Gerwig said. “That showed tonight. Sometimes you have to use that to your advantage as a coach. I can’t say enough about the way Michael Colon stepping in in the heat of battle with no warmups. He played great.”
Darien scored twice in 30 seconds at the end of a fast-paced and well-played first period, getting goals from Brendan Hathaway on a rebound of a shot by sophomore Jack Pardue and Davis on a pass off the back of the net by Jack Knowlton.
Davis scored again at 8:19 of the second to make it 3-0 on a wrist shot from the high slot after junior Tommy Watters dug the puck out of the corner. That goal came just moments after Darien killed a 5-on-3 power play for St. Joseph.
But the Cadets would get another chance with the man advantage, and boy did they make it work.
Greenhut score the first one on a wrist shot from an odd angle along the right boards that beat Collins (20 saves) over the glove hand. DeRosa banged home a rebound of a Keator shot to make it 2-0. Keator did the rest, taking a pass from Powell near the left circle and beating Collins with a shot that banked in off the right post and crossbar.
Keator, who was on the ice for all but 35 seconds of the power play, found the back of the net again just 31 seconds later, lifting a backhand past Collins standing near the right post off a rebound of a shot by speedy Ryan Corcoran.
Darien tried everything it could to stunt St. Joseph’s momentum, but to no avail.
“I called timeout after the second one. I thought it might give us a little breather and stop their momentum, but it didn’t work,” Gerwig said. “It wasn’t Michael Collins’ fault. We just weren’t clearing the puck on the power play. They were getting second and third whacks at it, and that was the difference on those four goals.”
The Cadets figured the more rubber they put on net, the more would go in.
“That’s always our goal, just get it on net and put it in,” said Keator, who has 18 goals and 11 assists on the season. “Most of the time it’s a garbage goal. It’s not a pretty goal where you skate through five players. Our goal was to get the puck on net and get rebounds, and we did that well tonight.”
Ironically enough, the Cadets had a chance to win the game on the power play after defenseman Andrew Gore got slashed on his way to the net three minutes into overtime.
But St. Joseph got conservative at the wrong time and managed just one shot on net.
“We needed one more there,” Crouse said. “They moved the puck well and we were shooting the puck on net when we scored all those goals on the power play, and then on the power play in overtime we don’t shoot. But I thought it was a good hockey game. Darien is a strong team. And that’s probably the best hockey we’ve seen among out of our competition this year.”
The tie will come at a heavy price for Darien, which ends the regular season with three tough games against undefeated Fairfield Prep, Ridgefield and arch-rival New Canaan. Not only will the Blue Wave be without their best defenseman for one game but might also be without junior Owen Koorbusch, a third-line center who left the game after getting struck in the hand by a hard slap shot.
“We have two guys out for next game, but the nice thing is we have a lot of depth,” Gerwig said. “I’m confident someone else will be able to step in and do the job.”
Junior goalie Marc Van Etten made 22 saves in the tie for St. Joseph.