Darien rings Notre Dame’s bell in state D1 boys ice hockey playoffs

The numbers showed what seemed to be a mismatch.

The Notre Dame-West Haven Green Knights’ boys ice hockey team had a 12-8 record and the No. 4 seed, while the Darien Blue Wave was sub-.500 with a 10-11-1 record and the No. 11 seed. For good measure, the Knights had beaten the Wave twice by a combined score of 10-3.

Well, throw those numbers out the window.

Darien senior defenseman Connor McCarthy scored on a shot from the point 3:01 into overtime as the Blue Wave knocked off Notre Dame, 3-2, in the opening round of the CIAC Div. I playoffs Thursday at Bennett Rink.

Darien was outshot, 41-29, but received a magnificent performance from goalie Henri Pfeifle, a junior who racked up 39 saves and kept the Wave in it when it appeared the Knights were taking over in the third period.

The Blue Wave (11-11-1) will now take on either No. 5 Ridgefield (18-4) or No. 12 Fairfield (12-10) in the state quarterfinals on Sunday. Those two teams will play their first round game Friday at 5:10 p.m. in Ridgefield. Depending on the outcome of that game, Darien will play either at Ridgefield’s Winter Garden, or host Fairfield at the Darien Ice House.

Darien had the better of play during the first period against Notre Dame, building a 2-0 lead in the first 12:13.

Will Cullitan scored the opening goal just 2:08 after the opening drop, ripped a shot from the right circle during an odd-man rush. Max Sharp and Fin Batson had assists on the play.

The Wave kept the pressure on throughout the period, with shots from several players, including James Gregory, Will Johnston and senior captain Will Dickson.

With 4:18 on the clock, the Knights’ Connor Morgan went to the box for interference, and Darien cashed in on the power play 31 seconds later. Gregory scored the goal to make it 2-0, with assists coming from Bennett McDermott and Dickson.

That prompted Notre Dame to switch goalies from Nick Piselli (5 saves), to Brendan Crowley (21 saves) and the move paid off as Crowley shut out the Wave for the next 36-plus minutes.

Darien’s defense held up well, led by Pfeifle, Gregory, McCarthy, Max Stein, Hunter Hazelton, among others.

The Wave managed to kill two penalties — one late in the first period and another early in the second — but the Knights found the net soon after the end of their second power play, when Michael Ansaldo scored off a rebound of a Kevin Millea shot.

In the third period, Notre Dame freshman Kyle Stober was hit with a five-minute major for a hit to the back, but the Knights netted the equalizer during the ensuing Wave power play.

Devin Napoli skated with the puck through the right circle and backhanded a pass to Ian Hayden on the opposite side. Hayden flipped it high to the net to tie the game at 2-2 with 13:03 remaining in regulation.

Notre Dame had the better opportunities down the stretch, as Michael Bencivengo and Zach Dumas led the attack, but Pfeifle was unbreakable with several acrobatic saves.

Crowley also came up with some big stops, including one on a close shot by Dickson, who had intercepted a pass near center ice and skated in untouched with two minutes to play.

In overtime, Pfeifle made three more saves to keep the Knights in check, allowing the wave to put the game away.

With Darien pressuring the net, the puck popped back to McCarthy, who fired it back through traffic and into the top of the net, setting off a Wave celebration. Dickson and Johnston both had assists on the goal.

Div. I Boys Ice Hockey, First Round – Darien 3, Notre Dame-West Haven 2 (OT)

Thurs., March 8, at Bennett Rink

Darien 2-0-0-1 3

NDWH 0-1-1-0 2

Darien: Will Dickson 2 assists; Will Culliton 1 goal; James Gregory 1 goal; Connor McCarthy 1 goal; Bennett McDermott 1 assist; Max Sharp 1 assist; Fin Batson 1 assist; Will Johnston 1 assist

NDWH: Michael Ansaldo 1 goal; Ian Hayden 1 goal; Kevin Millea 1 assist; Devin Napoli 1 assist

Goalies

D – Henri Pfeifle 39 saves

NDWH – Nick Piselli 5 saves; Brendan Crowley 21 saves

Shots

D – 29; NDWH – 41

Darien’s Henri Pfiefle made 39 saves in the Wave’s 3-2 win over Notre Dame-West Haven on Thursday. — Dave Stewart photo

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