A five-goal lead had completely evaporated during the third quarter and the Darien boys lacrosse team suddenly found itself in a heated battle against rival New Canaan with its undefeated record in jeopardy. But then again, this is a Blue Wave team which simply refuses to lose.
Senior co-captain Brian Minicus set up goals by Jack Joyce and Henri Pfeifle to put Darien back in front, and the Wave went on to defeat the Rams, 9-7, before a packed house at DHS on Saturday afternoon.
It was the 64th consecutive win for Darien and its fifth straight over New Canaan, which staged a tremendous comeback to make a bid for the victory.
“We came out, jumped on them, and they came back and certainly the crowd started to go in their favor, and the momentum goes in their favor,” Darien head coach Jeff Brameier said. “But we responded with a big goal, made it 7-6 and never looked back. The key things were not being dominated on faceoffs, hitting our shots when we needed to, and coming up with big possessions.”
“The second half, the comeback was great; I’m proud of our guys coming back,” New Canaan head coach Chip Buzzeo said. “It’s just that whenever you play Darien, you can’t make mistakes and they capitalized on them. It’s what they do, so we’ve got to reduce those and I think we’ll be okay.”
Darien, which improved to 10-0 overall and 7-0 in the FCIAC is now the last unbeaten team in the conference, while New Canaan is 7-3 overall and 5-1 in the league.
Perhaps more importantly, Darien once again responded to pressure from a strong opponent, scoring two consecutive goals after New Canaan had rallied to tie the game at 6-6.
Minicus and fellow senior co-captain Blake Sommi pointed to the Darien defense as a key to the victory.
“The first half we came out strong and credit to them — they’re a great team and they really fought back in the second half,” Minicus said. “But with our game plan and the way our defense has played, we knew we were come out with a win.”
“The defense really stood out today and locked them up,” Sommi said. “We’ve been waiting for this game for four months, so it was great to get out here on the field and get the result we wanted.”
With the game tied after New Canaan’s five-goal run — Quintin O’Connell scored four times before Liam Griffiths netted the equalizer — the Wave’s attack suddenly regained its scoring touch.
Three minutes after Griffiths’ goal, Darien Minicus set up Joyce for a goal to put Darien back in front heading to the fourth quarter. Pfeifle then scored, again with Minicus assisting, to make it an 8-6 game.
New Canaan responded with a wild behind-the-back goal by Chris Canet off a scramble in front of the net with 5:37 remaining, but the Wave’s Hudson Pokorny scored the day’s final goal as Darien secured the win.
The two assists by Minicus were part of a seven-point performance, as he scored three goals and dished out four helpers.
“Brian Minicus was on fire and really set the stage for everyone else,” Brameier said. “He’s one of the best in the country. He’s just so electric, you can’t cover him one-on-one. New Canaan did a good job later sliding to him and stuff, but then he started to find people.”
In addition to the performance by Minicus, the Wave had two goals apiece from Joyce, who also had an assists, and Pfeifle. Sommi and Pokorny also scored.
On defense, long poles Andrew Darby, Matt Gould, Tyler Strub, Connor Olson and Charlie Olsen had big days. Goalie Sean Collins was again in fine form with 14 saves.
“There was a question mark around the FCIAC about our goalie this year, but Sean is the man,” Sommi said. “He’s stepped up this year and stood on his head as usual.”
“With the different positions like defense, midfield and attack, we have that next man up mentality,” Minicus said. “We lost a great seniors class of offense, defense and a great goaltender, but we knew Sean was going to come ready to go and put in the work in the offseason just like all of us did. We knew he was going to come up big today.”
For New Canaan, O’Connell sparked the Ram rally and finished with four goals and one assist, while Griffiths, Canet, and Owen Shin each scored once, and Teddy Manges had one assist.
In goal, Carl Mazabras had a big day with 13 saves, as the Rams defense held the Wave scoreless for 17:35 overlapping the second and third quarters. Long poles Jackson Braden, Chase Strupp and George Dumbauld helped lead the effort.
With Minicus scoring a first-half hat trick, Darien jumped out to a 6-1 lead with 6:51 remaining in the second quarter. O’Connell scored late in the first half with an assist from Manges to end a New Canaan slide, but the Wave still led by four at halftime.
At halftime, the Rams had one thing on their minds.
“We’re better than that,” O’Connell said. “We came back from Wilton, so we knew we had it in us, and we did. It’s just a matter of executing for four quarters.”
The defense helped spark the third-quarter rally, stopping the Wave several times, while O’Connell found the net for three consecutive goals. When Griffiths knocked in a loose ball with 4:31 remaining in the third, New Canaan had come all the way back to tie the score.
“The problem in the third period was those ground balls turned into behind-the-back goals in front of the cage which shouldn’t happen,” Brameier said. “I’d rather take a push than let a guy pick up the ball and throw it behind his back like that. They got two of them, and that’s scrapiness, and our guys trying to get in there.:
Darien, however, regrouped and responded, scoring three of the final four goals for the win.
“Our match-ups were good,” Brameier said. “We had two poles in the midfield, which I think they probably hadn’t seen, and I think our defense put pressure on guys who hadn’t seen that kind of pressure as much. They put the ball on the ground and we picked it up.”
For New Canaan it was a missed opportunity, but one which comes with the possibility of a different outcome if the two teams meet again in the FCIACs, States or both.
“I don’t really think we ever have to prove anything when we play Darien,” Buzzeo said. “The games have always been close. It’s more about us. We’ve been talking about us for the whole year, and we made some mistakes today that gave Darien great goals. They’re a good team, and when you make mistakes, they capitalize on them. Hopefully, we can clean those up, which I think we will after a couple of adjustments and hopefully we’ll have a competitive game the next time we play them because we’re going to play them again.”
For Darien, the win represented another win over a quality opponent in what has always been an entertaining rivalry.
“This was definitely big,” Sommi said. “It’s a great feeling to have a good weekend and hopefully ruin theirs.”
Darien 9, New Canaan 7
Saturday, April 28, at Darien HS
New Canaan 1-1-4-1 7
Darien 4-2-1-2 9
New Canaan: Quintin O’Connell 4g, 1a; Owen Shin 1g; Liam Griffiths 1g; Chris Canet 1g; Ted Manges 1a
Darien: Brian Minicus 3g, 4a; Jack Joyce 2g, 1a; Henri Pfeifle 2g; Blake Sommi 1g; Hudson Pokorny 1g
NC – Carl Mazabras 13 saves
D – Sean Collins 14 saves