Round one goes to the New Canaan Rams.
The Rams rode a shutout performance by goalie Blythe Novick and went 3-for-3 on the power play as they defeated the rival Darien Blue Wave, 3-0, Monday night at the Darien Ice House.
It was a perfect slate for Novick, a sophomore who spent of a couple of hours at the rink getting ready for the game.
“Honestly, how I de-nerve myself is by stretching, which is a really weird thing,” Novick said with a smile. “I stretched for two hours before this game and then I talked to my goalie coach and we discussed splitting the game up into little sections and being consistent. He always tells me not to try and play amazingly, just play a good game, and that’s the way you’ll get to amazing.”
The plan worked to a tee as an Novick collected 15 saves and punctuated the shutout late in the third period when she stabbed the puck from the air for a glove save on a wicked shot from Darien senior co-captain Shea van den Broek.
Darien (3-1) had dominated its first three games, out-scoring its opponents 25-2 overall, but had few answers for the Rams.
“We were beat by a team that wanted it more,” Wave head coach Jamie Tropsa said. “They played harder, they played more aggressive and they played a great game. Hats off to them — they have a very talented team. A lot of things have to change for us if we think we’re going to beat them.”
It was a energetic win for the Rams (4-0), who were quick to the puck and won the vast majority of the 50-50 battles.
“They were all over the puck,” New Canaan head coach Rich Bulan said of his players. “We realized this year that we have the kind of players who can do that, so that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to dump it deep, go after it and make the other teams work. If we play our game, stay disciplined and don’t give up much, we’re going to be good.”
The game is the first of what could be as many as four meetings between the rivals this season. They’ll play again on Jan. 26, and could be destined to clash in both the FCIAC and state tournaments.
Last year, New Canaan won three of four games against Darien, but the Wave delivered some revenge as their one win against the Rams came in the state semifinals. Darien went on to beat the Suffield co-op for its third straight state championship.
After each team managed a quick shot in the first minute, the rivals settled in and skated back-and-forth before the Rams took advantage of a Wave penalty.
During the ensuing power play, freshman Kaleigh Harden fired a shot from the point to the far post, but Darien goalie Hallie Kreppein (22 saves) made a nice kick save. The puck skidded around in front where Harden scooped it up for a second attempt. That shot hit the skate of senior co-captain Katelyn Sparks, who corralled the puck and fired it off the pipe and into the net for a 1-0 lead.
On another power play just 25 seconds later, senior co-captain Jess Eccleston, a defenseman, whipped a shot from the point inside the left pipe to make it 2-0.
“We always want to be ahead at the beginning and those two goals set the tone for the rest of the game,” Novick said. “But we didn’t want to rest on those two goals because we know how quickly things can happen in hockey. We just wanted to focus on keeping pressure on them and playing a good game.”
Darien didn’t have much by way of offensive pressure, but had a golden opportunity at the end of the first period with Sparks in the box after an interference penalty. Darien managed three shots from the line of sophomores Nelle Kniffin and Kate Bellissimo, and van den Broek, but Novick came up with each stop.
New Canaan outshot Darien 8-6 in a scoreless second period, and the Rams then scored on yet another power play goal in the first minute of the third.
Eccleston took the initial shot from the point and Sparks redirected it at Kreppein. The puck glanced off the goalie’s pads and stopped at the line, where Harden rushed in and poked it home for a 3-0 lead.
Novick made a few saves down the stretch as she and the defense, which featured Eccleston, Sparks, sophomore McKenna Harden and junior Sophie Potter, earned the shutout.
“We had that power play and then we had the one good chance there in the second when all we had to do was tap it in and Blythe made a great save,” Tropsa said. “Their goal-tending was key. She made some great saves.”
For Darien, the game is an early stumble, but one Tropsa feels it’ll recover from quickly.
“They’re fast and we’re fast, but I don’t think we played smart enough to beat that team tonight,” Tropsa said. “They were smarter than us tonight and they won the small battles. That was the difference. But we’ll get better from this without a doubt.”
Player of the game
Blythe Novick, New Canaan. The Rams’ sophomore goalie stopped all 15 shots the Blue Wave threw at her, coming up big on several flurries in front of the net. She made three saves during a wild series at the end of the first period, with Darien threatening during a power play, and then gloved a hard shot in the final minutes of the third frame to preserve the shutout.
“A lot of times we were successful, but there were a lot of times that they were right there and we got a bounce or we were able to get a stick on it. It’s far from over. They’re still the reigning state champs. I’m just glad that early in the year, we get a big one like this out of the way.” — New Canaan head coach Rich Bulan.