Darien and New Canaan girls hockey teams skate to 1-1 tie in rivalry thriller

New Canaan’s Jess Eccleston (7) and Darien’s Nelle Kniffin (20) and Evelyn Hidy (8) mix it up during a girls ice hockey game at the Darien Ice House on Saturday, Jan. 26. — Dave Stewart/Hearst Connecticut Media photo

It was a girls ice hockey game more befitting a state championship in March than squarely in the middle of the regular season for the Darien Blue Wave and New Canaan Rams.

Darien’s Colleen Cassidy scored with 0.7 seconds remaining in regulation and the two rivals skated through an eight-minute overtime before finishing in a 1-1 tie Saturday night at the Darien Ice House.

There’s a very good chance New Canaan (11-1-1) and Darien (9-3-1) will clash on an even bigger stage during the postseason, but for now, Saturday night’s energy had both teams feeling good.

“That was one of the best girls high school hockey games I’ve ever been involved with,” New Canaan head coach Rich Bulan said. “That was just a great game. I think we’re two of the best teams in the states easily. I told the girls, they should be thrilled to be a part of a game like this.”

“The pace of the game was fantastic, the energy from both teams was fantastic, the crowd was amazing,” Darien head coach Jamie Tropsa said. “it was a great high school hockey game.”

Cassidy’s dramatic goal offset a tally by New Canaan’s Courtney O’Connell late in the second period, as O’Connell cleaned up a rebound after an attempt by linemate Anika Curri.

The pace of play was fast and furious starting about midway through the second period, and each team put nine shots on net in the third.

For Darien, the game was a huge improvement from the first meeting of the rivals, when New Canaan pitched a 3-0 shutout on December 17.

“After we lost to them, we realized we had to play with more heart,” Darien goalie Hallie Kreppein said. “They wanted it more than us the first time, so we all came ready to play today. We really showed a lot of heart and worked as a team.”

Kreppein and New Canaan goalie Blythe Novick were both outstanding as they put on a show from start to finish. Kreppein made 28 saves, including a dozen in the third period and overtime, while Novick had 18 stops, allowing only the one goal in the final second.

“Hallie was phenomenal,” Tropsa said. “There were five or six saves where I don’t know how she made them. And Blythe was great too. Both goaltenders were fantastic tonight.”

“Hallie played really well and Blythe stood on her head again,” Bulan said. “Hallie picks her game up against us and she played solid tonight.”

The goalies kept the game scoreless until the second period, when New Canaan struck with 2:01 remaining. Curri took the initial shot, back-handing the puck at Kreppein. The Darien goalie made the save but the rebound bounced to the open side, and O’Connell flipped it in on the backdoor for the 1-0 lead.

After that, Kreppein was unscathed, shutting out the Rams for the final 25 minutes with several stellar saves.

“I always try to cancel out the time and never look at it,” Kreppein said. “Whether we have a lot of time left or only 10 seconds, I always focus on the puck with the same intensity level. Before the game, I do everything to get focused and get in a zone.”

At the other end, Novick made several huge plays to keep New Canaan in front. Darien’s best chance in the first two periods came during a two-on-one break, when Shea van den Broek slipped a pass across the front of the net Nelle Kniffin, but Novick reacted quickly and slid to the post to make the save.

The pressure had Novick playing well.

“Honestly, that’s easier for me,” Novick said. “I concentrate more and I’m more focused. There’s less hesitation and less time for me to think about other things. That actually helps me and that’s why I’d rather play against a better team.”

Darien finally broke through in the final second when Kreppein was pulled from the net to create a 6-on-5. During a scrum off the right post, the puck slipped in front and Cassidy’s skate as she was pushed by New Canaan defenseman Jess Eccleston. The puck slid into the net to tie the score.

“That was awesome,” Kreppein said. “I’m always a little skeptical when we pull the goalie because it hasn’t really worked out in the past for me, but it worked this time and it was a great feeling. We deserved it; we really worked hard for it.”

New Canaan outshot Darien 3-2 in overtime and each team killed a penalty as the game fittingly ended in a tie.

“The teams are pretty even and it comes down to who wants it more and who gets the lucky bounces,” Novick said. “It’s which team plays better that night and we both played great.”

PLAYERS OF THE GAME

Goalies Hallie Kreppein of Darien and Blythe Novick of New Canaan. Both netminders were outstanding in holding two high-powered offenses in check. Kreppein amassed 28 saves, while Novick had 18, and both goals scored came during unsettled situations.

QUOTABLE

“The first game, taking nothing away from New Canaan, I don’t think that was one of our better games. Today we played much better overall with everything we did. In that first game, they scored three power play goals and we were running around and out of position. We’ve fine-tuned that a lot, and that was the biggest difference today.” — Darien head coach Jamie Tropsa

DARIEN 1, NEW CANAAN 1

Darien 0 0 1 0 – 1

New Canaan 0 1 0 0 – 1

First Period: No Scoring; Second Period: NC – Courtney O’Connell (Anika Curri) 12:59; Third Period: D – Colleen Cassidy 14:59; Overtime: No Scoring

Goalies

D – Hallie Kreppein 28 saves

NC – Blythe Novick 18 saves

Shots: D 19; NC 29

Records: Darien (9-3-1 overall, 7-1-1 FCIAC); New Canaan (11-1-1, 8-1-1)