Will Power: Wave Puck goes on the comeback hunt

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Will Dickson looks ahead last season. This season he’s at the head of the class. Courtesy Darien Athletic Foundation

BOYS HOCKEY

Darien might not be so deep to start the season.

But if a team sinks or swims with its first line as the rest come up to speed, then the Wave has a good chance of at a minimum not sinking.

And that would be an improvement upon the unusually snake-bitten winter of 2016-17.

Skilled sophomore playmaker Bennett McDermott centers the top line to begin the season, with senior Will Dickson on right and senior Will Johnston on left.

“That’s a line we’re really looking for to generate some offense for us,” said Darien coach Mac Budd, in his third season manning the bench and who laced up as a former Blue Wave standout himself back in the day. “The thing is, in the league and the state every team has a good first line. So that’s really important, because if you don’t have a good first line, you’re really in trouble. Everybody has a good first line.”

And Darien can rely on its wheels to peel off with every line.

“We have pretty good team speed,” Budd said. “I think our forwards are fast. Hockey is so much about transition now, and speed is a critical part of that. And I think we have (it).”

Darien just missed the league playoffs last season and went 8-12 in the state, the 15 seed losing 4-1 to reigning DI champion No. 2 Ridgefield in the first round.

The Wave opens the season at Hamden 2:30pm on Saturday, then has Fairfield Prep 6pm Dec. 20 at Wonderland.

Next on the schedule is an oddity of a 10am face-off vs. New Canaan on the eve of Christmas Eve for the home opener.

Last season was tough. This season’s a question mark, more than most. And the question seems to be, is this group going to grab the reins, dig in the spurs and trample over what ever’s out there ahead of it?

Its unprecedented two straight state titles in 2015 and 2016, and trip to the state final after wining the FCIAC Championship in 2014, were always going to be difficult to follow, especially after breaking the famous 45-year ice dam in ’15.

But beyond the skill and depth those teams deployed to historic results in Darien, what got it done, ultimately, was that wild horses sense of fury and fight.

So who’s next to saddle up?

“And I’ve pointed out (we need) a willingness on the part of the kids to win the battles in the corners and in front of the net,” Budd added. “And get to those dirty areas. We need to do that this year. Some of the returning players have to step up and they have to raise the level of their game and they have to produce.”

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CJ Hathaway under the watchful eye of the Super Fans. Courtesy Darien Athletic Foundation

One most likely to step up is junior CJ Hathaway — who knows the way, with brothers and family blazing the icy trail over generations in town — and who was a bright spot on the roster last season.

“We’re certainly counting on him,” Budd said. “He’s just a very good center; an unselfish player.”

He’ll have big and sturdy Hudson Pokorny with him. Pokorny came along late in the season and scored two goals in his first game up. Lots of potential there.

Old hands need to step up and newcomers need to step right in.

One is sophomore Robbie Stewart, with size, speed and skills.

“They are going to have to produce as well,” Budd said.

Senior Will Culliton centers the third line with sophomore Max Sharp on right wing and Parker MacLane in from prep school on left.

Lines are in flux still in early Dec. and beyond the early top nine, the flux is at its maximum.

The Wave would like to have a minimum of flux when it comes to the puck and keeping hold of it.

“What we are going to need to do a better job of than we did last year, is we’re going to need to do a better job of possessing the puck,” said Budd. “I felt like last year there were too many moments when we were playing for long periods in our own end of the rink. We need to spend more time in the offensive zone and we need to do a better job of winning battles along the boards and keeping the pressure on and generating shots.”

Darien loses 11 seniors from last season’s roster.

Defense has seasoned hands in senior Hunter Hazelton, junior James Gregory, both who can turn the puck up ice and go on offensive, and senior Connor McCarthy.

A rookie coming up on defense is freshman Matthew Stein.

“He had a heck of a weekend for us,” said Budd of his performance in scrimmages at the mighty St. John’s Prep and at the not quite as mighty but excellent St. John’s-Shrewsbury. “And he definitely earned himself a regular spot.

“He’s a very, very skilled defender. I was really impressed with how he handled himself. He was able to play at that level and at that speed.”

Darien lost 9-0 to SJP, no shame there. It only sharpened senses and toughened sensibilities for the new season, which is why they take the trip.

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Henri Pfeifle gets set in goal. Courtesy Darien Athletic Foundation

Junior Henri Pfeifle looks to start the season the starter and senior Nick Elwell the back-up in goal.

“(Pfeifle) is a talented goalie,” said Budd. “He had two games last year — he played in a bunch of games — but against Stamford and against Fairfield Prep, he played out of his mind.

“And he played very well last weekend in Mass.”

Elwell’s working hard, is at the ready, and will need to stay prepared to get the call.

“He’s going to get a lot of time too,” Budd said. “He’s earned the chance to play in some games and he’s looked very good. We feel like we’re in good shape with two very good goalies.”

Brian Zaffino joins the Wave crew of newcomers on the blue line, and he’s another who showed up in Mass. at the weekend.

“We are counting on him to have a big season,” Budd added.