The Darien boys ice hockey team didn’t have much success while facing the Fairfield Prep Jesuits the past two years. But four straight losses, including a 9-3 margin of defeat in two games last winter, just served to make the Blue Wave even hungrier this season.
Sophomore Sean Bradley netted the game-winning goal early in the third period to propel the Wave to a come-from-behind 2-1 victory over the Jesuits in front of a packed house Wednesday night at the Darien Ice House.
It was Darien’s second-straight win over a perennial Connecticut power — the Wave topped Hamden 3-1 on Saturday — and the team’s confidence is continuing to grow.
“We haven’t beaten Fairfield Prep in two years, so this was a game that’s circled on our schedule for sure,” Darien goalie Henri Pfeifle said. “After Hamden, we know what we’re capable of, so we were confident coming in. It was a really good game and definitely another confidence-builder beating Prep.”
The Jesuits (0-2) had a 1-0 lead and outshot the Wave 10-6 in the first period, but Darien (2-1) answered with goals in the second and third frames.
“I love the response that I got in the second period,” Darien head coach Mac Budd said. “That tells you a lot about the team. We knew they were going to push early and they did. We didn’t come out ready to play, but we were certainly ready to play after the first period.”
For the Jesuits, the performance was a step up from their 5-2 loss to Ridgefield last Wednesday, but they’re still hunting for that first win.
“There was a little bit of improvement,” Fairfield Prep head coach Matt Sather said. “We certainly played more confident. We’ve got a lot of new guys, so maybe there was some nerves in that first varsity game. They were a little more settled today, but not nearly good enough.”
Darien received a huge performance from Pfeifle, who racked up 30 saves and was a perfect 21-for-21 over the final two periods. He also received solid help from the defense, which featured senior co-captain James Gregory, senior Patrick Conway, junior Jack Masey, sophomores Matt Stein and Luke Johnston and freshman Nick Lancaster.
“We’ve got a really young defense in front of me,” Pfeifle said. “We get to work together, I tell them what I like, and so far the communication’s been great. They get the puck out and they’re playing well.”
Youth is a theme for the Blue Wave, as the sophomore line of Bradley, Sam Erickson and Jamison Moore generated both goals against Prep after scoring all three against Hamden. They now have six of Darien’s seven goals this year, with Bradley finding the net four times.
“That line has done a superb job for us and they’ve come in against some of the top teams we’ve played so far — we’ve used they as a first-line match-up and they’ve provided most of the scoring so far,” Budd said. “We’re thrilled to death to have a sophomore line like that and hope that they can continue to improve throughout the season.”
Prep had the early edge, pressuring the Wave zone and eventually scoring when Colin Bella put one in on a second attempt. Pfeifle made a kick save on the first shot by Bella but the puck rebounded in front and Bella stayed with the play, cleaning up for a 1-0 lead with 7:09 on the clock.
The Jesuits were looking for more late in the period with three quick shots on Pfeifle around the 12-minute mark. The Darien goalie made all three saves, gloving the final attempt from Bella to keep the Wave’s deficit at one.
“Henri played great, without a doubt,” Budd said. “You could argue that at points he kept us in the game early on. If they bang a couple more in, which they certainly could’ve early, it’s going to be very, very hard to come back on a team like that. We were lucky that he kept it to one early.”
Fairfield Prep held a 10-6 advantage in shots after one period, but the Wave came out firing in the second stanza, tying the game when Erickson deflected a shot from the boards by Moore into the net at 3:42.
The Jesuits had a chance to regain the lead later in the period despite being down a man. Senior captain Calyb Reeves knocked the puck free along the boards and made a diving pass to the front of the Wave net. With Bella closing in, Pfeifle came out and slapped the puck away with his stick before the Prep senior could get a shot.
At the end of that same power play, Erickson fired a rocket at the Prep net, but goalie Jake Walker (26 saves) got his stick up and deflected the puck, killing the remaining seconds on the Darien advantage.
Bradley then netted the game-winner just 17 seconds into the third period, gaining the puck to the right of the net and popping it off Walker’s back and into the goal.
Darien outshot Prep 8-3 to start the third period, but the Jesuits held a 10-4 advantage the rest of the way as they attempted to tie the score. The line of Bella, Reeves, and senior Chandler Dumont generated much of that pressure, but Pfeifle and the Wave defense held on.
“As always, there’s a few positives and a few negatives to take away,” Sather said. “I was pleased with the energy and effort, and I was pleased with the development that I’ve seen from last game to this game, but there are definitely some fundamental things that we’re not doing yet that we’re going to need to start doing quickly.”
Player of the game
Henri Pfeifle, Darien. The senior goalie allowed one first-period goal, but shut the Jesuits down the rest of the way, stopping Fairfield Prep’s next 26 shots as the Wave rallied for the win. Pfeifle faced 31 shots overall and made 30 saves, including 13 in the third period.
“I love playing games like this. I love playing Fairfield Prep, I love playing Hamden, Ridgefield, Greenwich, New Canaan — it’s just a great experience. On a night like this when you have good support from the parents and the high school students, it’s really an electric environment. It’s really why we have a good success rate getting good, younger players to come in. This is why we play. We have a lot of fun playing this caliber of game.” — Darien head coach Mac Budd
Darien 2, Fairfield Prep 1
Wed., Dec. 19, at Darien Ice House
Prep 1 0 0 – 1
Darien 0 1 1 – 2
Fairfield Prep: Colin Bella 1g; Chandler Dumont 1a; Seamus Carolan 1a
Darien: Sam Erickson 1g; Sean Bradley 1g; Jamison Moore 1a
FP – Jake Walker 26 saves
D – Henri Pfeifle 30 saves
Shots: Prep 31, Darien 28