It was anything but a textbook victory.
The Darien boys ice hockey team overcame nine penalties and edged the Xavier Falcons, 4-3, on a late goal by sophomore Sean Bradley Saturday at the Darien Ice House.
While the penalties were a minus for the Blue Wave, the penalty kill was a huge plus, as Xavier scored just twice on the power play. It was a glass half full way of looking at the situation for Darien.
“Early in the season, we don’t get as much time to work on our penalty kill, but obviously tonight we did,” Darien head coach Mac Budd said. “They had a very, very good power play. They move the puck well and they use the backdoor well, but we did a great job tonight. So one of the positives is that we were great on the penalty kill.”
Bradley’s game-winner came just 44 seconds after Xavier senior Chase Maxwell had knotted the game for the Falcons.
Xavier goalie Kellen Beauton ranged far from the net to get to the puck ahead of a charging Jamison Moore, but Beauton’s clear was intercepted by Bradley at the blue line. Beauton slipped while attempting to get back to the net, and Bradley fired a shot into the open goal.
“It was an odd goal,” Budd said. “But Bradley put himself in position to score. Their goalie was a little bit out of position, but Sean’s a kid who plays really hard, he’s a smart hockey player, and he puts himself in good positions. The puck was there and he’s there to knock it in.”
Both teams have played a loaded schedule thus far. Darien is 4-2 heading into the FCIAC part of its campaign, while Xavier, which has lost three straight, is now 1-6. The Falcons showed plenty of life on Saturday, rallying from an early two-goal deficit and tying the game twice before the Wave won it.
“We’re not there yet,” the Falcons’ first-year head coach Nick Costanzo said. “We didn’t play 45 minutes and Darien probably played a little better than us overall, especially with that start. We had an opportunity to rectify it, but we’ll use this as a learning curve.”
Darien came out of the gates strong and appeared ready to run away with the win.
The Wave scored the first goal just 59 seconds in, as Sam Erickson tipped a shot from the point by Jack Massey. Three minutes later, the Wave made it 2-0 when Erickson worked behind the net and set up Moore in front for a goal.
“We were just throwing the puck at the net,” senior co-captain James Gregory said. “We had guys going in hard and that was really it. We wanted to give the goalie something to think about there and we did.”
Senior Jake Woznyk started in goal for the Falcons, but after the Wave’s fast start, the sophomore Beauton (17 saves) relieved, made three quick stops and put the brakes on Darien’s offense.
“We’ve got two (goalies) who are kind of going back and forth, so there’s a little competition going on between them and that’s definitely going to help us down the road,” Costanzo said. “They’re pushing each other in a positive way. Today, (Beauton) gave us a chance, which is what you want. Our guys picked up the play for him the rest of the way.”
Xavier broke through early in the second stanza as the Wave turned it over in the neutral zone and Stewart Gurnell came up with the loose puck, skated in, and slipped a shot past Wave goalie Henri Pfeifle (20 saves) inside the right pipe.
The Falcons then took advantage of Darien penalty in scoring the equalizer, as JJ Ford’s shot from the point sailed through traffic and into the net. Nate McDevitt set up the shot and Brendan Buckley also assisted.
The Wave regained the lead with 4:02 remaining in the second when Blake Swiggett drove to the net from the corner and threw the puck off a defenseman. The puck bounced over the shoulder of Beauton for a power play goal to make it 3-2.
Darien, which was called for eight penalties in the second and third periods, was forced to rely on the penalty kill down the stretch.
“It’s a tough situation to put the team in because players are killing penalties and it makes them tired and then we’re not getting the shifts we should be getting,” Gregory said. “But the team did a gritty job killing the penalties.”
“We really used everyone on those penalty kills,” Budd said. “Our thing on penalty kills is if they’re doing it right, we’re aggressive, and so they really should only be out there for about 30 seconds. We try and get them on and off quickly.”
The Wave paid a price in the third period. Nick LeClaire flung a pass to Maxwell at the backdoor, and Maxwell wristed it high to tie the score at 3-3 with 4:00 on the clock.
With 3:16 remaining, however, Bradley cashed in after a turnover and gave the Wave the hard-fought win.
“We got off to a great start and we had good momentum in the first period with a couple of quick goals,” Budd said. “They pushed back hard in the second and then I felt like we were really pretty lucky because penalties took over the game.”
Xavier is in the midst of a seven-game stretch of road games, which included four in Massachusetts, Saturday’s game at Darien, and two games next weekend in Rhode Island.
Costanzo is hopeful the tough schedule will help the Falcons as they move along this season.
“We’ll find out in a couple of months,” the coach said. “It’s a whole other level playing with those teams. Those are some of the top teams in the neighboring states. Our guys get up for those, but we have to bring it no matter who we’re playing. There are no gimmes on our schedule so we have to be prepared every game.”
Players of the Game
Darien’s penalty kill. The bad news: The Wave committed nine penalties, including four each in the second and third periods. The good news: They overcame that statistic with a strong performance on the kill. Xavier scored twice on power plays, and didn’t score during a one minute 5-on-3 in the second frame.
“We have a good combination of young guys and great senior leadership, not only from our captains but also from some of the other guys. It’s been a couple of years where we were .500 and we’d like to do a little bit better than that. We’re playing hard and we’re playing with a lot of intensity and when we play that way, we have good results. I’m very happy to have played the schedule we’ve played and be 4-2.” — Darien head coach Mac Budd
Darien 4, Xavier 3
Saturday, Jan. 5, at Darien Ice House
Xavier 0 2 1 – 3
Darien 2 1 1 – 4
First Period: D – Sam Erickson (Jack Massey), 0:49; D – Moore (Erickson, Massey), 3:48
Second Period: X – Stewart Gurnell, 2:25; X – JJ Ford (Brendan Buckley, Nate McDevitt), 5:12; D – Blake Swiggett (James Gregory), 10:58
Third Period: X – Chase Maxwell (McDevitt, Nick LeClaire), 11:00; D – Sean Bradley, 11:44
X – Jake Woznyk 2 saves; and Kellen Beauton 17 saves
D – Henri Pfeifle 20 saves
Shots: X 23; D 23