Darien, Southington/Avon advance to CHSGHA girls hockey final

SHELTON - The CHSGHA will crown a new girls ice hockey champion this season.

The Southington/Avon co-op got off to a fast start and defeated two-time defending state champion New Canaan 4-1 in the CHSGHA semifinals Saturday at the Rinks at Shelton.

In the early semifinal, Darien scored twice in the second period and then held off the East Catholic co-op in the third for a 2-1 victory.

No. 1 Darien (21-1-2) and No. 2 Southington/Avon (21-3-0) will face off in the CHSGHA championship game at 7, Wednesday at Quinnipiac’s M&T Bank Arena.

The Wave and Nighthawks split two regular-season meetings, with Darien winning 7-1 at Newington Rink, and Southington/Avon winning 7-6 in Darien.

Darien is appearing in the state final for the eighth time and last won the title in 2018. The Blue Wave lost to New Canaan 4-3 in triple OT in last year’s title game.

“They had a couple of rough years - last year, the game against New Canaan was tough, and the two years before that, we didn’t have (a state final),” Darien coach Jamie Tropsa said. “So it’s nice that in their senior year, they get to go back to that game.”

Southington/Avon is in the state final for the first time, after being eliminated by Darien in last year’s semifinals.

The Nighthawks have a solid group of six seniors, including Nicole Partridge and Bella Bonfiglio, who have been standouts since their freshman season.

“They came in as freshmen and contributed right away,” Southington/Avon coach Mike Carerra said. “We were top heavy with one line and as freshmen, they did a really nice job. They just move the puck so well, they work on it constantly and they’re cycling. They deserve this.”

Darien had to overcome a strong defensive performance from East Catholic in the semis.

After a scoreless period and a half, the Wave’s top line finally broke through on a beautiful back-and-forth by seniors Kelsey Brown and Chelsea Donovan. On a break, Brown dished off to Donovan, who returned the puck in front to Brown for the goal.

“That’s just an example of the passing we’ve been working on,” Brown said. “We’ve gotten a lot better on reading and decision-making. We’ve tried to play a lot more simple, work on our passing and that’s helped us generate a lot more offense in the last couple of games.”

Later in the period, Darien scored short-handed when Brown won the puck in the corner and sent it out front where Donovan scored off the pass for a 2-0 advantage.

Storm sophomore Lili Ficaro cut the deficit in half with a top-shelf goal 4:19 into the third period.

East Catholic kept up the pressure the rest of the way, but Darien held on for the win.

In the nightcap, Southington/Avon came out flying, getting a goal from senior Emily Moskal in first period, and one from Partridge in the second for a 2-0 lead.

New Canaan got one back 1:01 into the third period, when Lexie Tully rifled in a shot from the top of the circle to make it 2-1.

Just 1:52 later, Partridge found the net with an assist from Bonfiglio for a back-breaking goal.

“We’ve been in those situations before and we’ve been on the wrong side of it too,” Partridge said. “So we knew we had to come back and capitalize if we wanted to make it to the next round,”

“That was huge,” Carrera said. “Watching her the past four years, she’s a gamer. When the game matters, and in a big game, I know you can count on that kid. She's top-notch, just a clutch player.”

Bonfiglio scored an empty-netter in the final minute to nail down the win and send the Nighthawks into the state final.

“The whole team is super-excited,” Partridge said  “We’ve worked all season for this. We’ve always had this in mind, and we’ve finally made it happen.”

David.Stewart@hearstmediact.com; @dstewartsports

No. 1 Darien 2, No. 4 East Catholic co-op 1

East Catholic 0 0 1 - 1

Darien 0 2 0 - 2

East Catholic: Lili Ficaro 1g; Leila Espirito-Santo 1a.

Darien: Kelsey Brown 1g, 1a; Chelsea Donovan 1g, 1a

Goalies: EC - Kelsey Kowal 21 saves, Lola Espirito-Santo 8 saves; D - Katherine Kahn 12 saves

No. 2 Southington/Avon 4, No. 3 New Canaan 1

New Canaan 0 0 1 - 1

Southington/Avon 1 1 2 - 4

New Canaan: Lexie Tully 1g; Serena O’Connor 1a.

Southington/Avon: Nicole Partridge 2g; Bella Bonfiglio 1g, 1a; Emily Moskal 1g; Maya Fanelli 1a; Kaalyn Reynolds 1a.

Goalies: NC - Ashton Pinkernell 23 saves; S/A - Sophia Ojala 23 saves.