New Canaan cools off rival Darien
Looks like the New Canaan ice hockey team isn’t ready to relinquish its crown just yet.
With a berth to the FCIAC playoffs still hanging in the balance, the Rams put together one of their most complete efforts of the season, handing red-hot Darien its first conference loss with a 4-0 victory Tuesday afternoon at the Darien Ice Rink.
New Canaan jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period, including a back-breaking short-handed goal by senior captain Dylan Hart off a turnover in the Darien zone. The Rams shut down the Blue Wave after that, salting the game away with a second-period goal by senior captain Jake Granito and a third-period tally by junior forward Puck Richardson.
Senior goalie Chris Koennecke made 19 saves to post the shutout for New Canaan, which improved to 11-6-1 overall while solidifying its hold on one of the top six FCIAC playoffs spots at 7-3 in the conference.
New Canaan, which snapped Darien’s 11-game winning streak, came out skating hard and didn’t stop until the final whistle.
“That was one of our better efforts,” said New Canaan head coach Bo Hickey, whose team overcame a 30-minute delay after one of the officials got hit with a puck during the second-period warm-ups. “We proved to these guys that you have to go out every day and play everybody the same way: full tilt and let the coaches call the dogs off. I think we learned that tonight.”
Left for dead following a recent three-game losing streak, New Canaan has now won three straight. If they continue to play the way they did against Darien, the Rams could be tough to beat in the playoffs.
“We really wanted to prove something tonight,” said Hart, who finished with one goal and one assist. “This was the culmination of all our hard work, but by no means are we done.”
Darien, which fell to 12-4 overall and 9-1 in the FCIAC, was coming off a win over Ridgefield that put the Blue Wave in position to claim the No. 1 seed for the impending conference playoffs, so the letdown factor might have been in play.
Darien was also missing four starters — one due to a school suspension. Among the injured was Hank Glick, a stalwart senior defenseman as well as the quarterback of Darien’s power-play.
The loss of Glick, who might be out for the season after breaking his finger in the win against Ridgefield, definitely hurt as Darien went 0-for-4 on the power play while handing the puck to Hart on the short-handed goal with a bad turnover deep in the defensive zone.
Still, Darien head coach Chris Gerwig wasn’t making any excuses.
“We’re down a little bit. We’re not the same team, and there’s a letdown from that,” Gerwig said. “Coming off the big win against Ridgefield we thought we’d come out firing on all cylinders, but we didn’t. We came out flat with no intensity and that carried over for three periods. That wasn’t the same Darien team I’ve seen over the past 16 games.”
Darien defeated New Canaan 6-1 in a non-conference game over the Christmas break, leading to its 11-game win streak. Gerwig hopes the loss will spark the Blue Wave in the same manner.
“It’s always a learning experience. It might not be bad to lose after winning 11 in a row,” Gerwig said. “We’re still in control of our own destiny, and that’s the best part. Maybe this was a blessing in disguise.”
New Canaan isn’t the fastest team in the FCIAC. The Rams aren’t even close to Darien in that respect. But New Canaan still managed to neutralize Darien’s speed with aggressive fore-checking, particularly from the line of Spencer Manchuck, Tyler Manchuck and Harry Stanton, and hard-hitting defense led by senior Chip Glover, turning the rematch into a tight-checking affair that produced a scant number of quality scoring chances.
New Canaan finished with a 24-19 advantage in shots and held Darien off the board on four power-play opportunities with solid work from a penalty-killing unit led by the Manchuck brothers.
“We’re not the slowest team, but we don’t have the type of speed (Darien) has,” Hart said. “So that’s a credit to all our coaches for all their hard work coming up with a plan to slow them down.”
Sophomore forward Peter Reinhardt gave New Canaan a 1-0 lead at 7:40 of the first period after picking up a rebound of his own shot and beating Darien goalie Max Rothston (20 saves) with a backhand over the shoulder.
Darien had a chance to tie it with its first power play, but Hart picked up an errant clearing pass on a solo fore-check, raced toward the net on a mini breakaway and beat Rothston with a low shot past his glove hand to make it 2-0 with 3:44 left in the first period.
“We stopped their breakout a lot. They had trouble getting it out of the zone,” Hart said. “Their defense, if you pressured them, fumbled the puck. It just came right out to me in the slot. I haven’t beaten Max in that spot in a while, but I managed to get that one past him.”
That ended up giving New Canaan all the momentum it needed.
“Short-handed goals are killers,” Hickey said. “Especially early on. It’s a big deflator.”
Granito made it 3-0 at 10:54 of the third. Defenseman Ritchie Shane jumped into the play and sent a nice pass across the high slot. Rothston made a save on Granito’s initial shot from the right side, but the gritty senior pounced on the rebound and lifted it into an open net for the goal.
Richardson sealed the victory with the only goal of the third period at 9:53 off assists by Granit and Hart.
New Canaan is now armed with plenty of confidence heading into the postseason.
“We’re definitely a different team than the last time we played them,” Koennecke said. “Now we have confidence that we can play with any team in the state.”