Dreams dashed for Darien's ice hockey teams

Like the rest of the sports world, Darien High School’s athletes have had to put away their equipment for the time being due to the coronavirus outbreak.

For the seniors on the Blue Wave’s ice hockey teams, the abrupt ending to their seasons hit particularly hard, as both were in contention for state championships and had a chance to fulfill lifelong dreams.

The Darien girls team was just one step away from reaching the CHSGHA state final for the fifth consecutive season. The second-seeded Wave, which went 16-2-1 this winter, was lined up to face FCIAC foe Greenwich for the fourth time this season — Darien had won two of the first three — when the tournament was canceled last Tuesday.

Darien’s boys team, which was 18-5-0, had been ranked No. 1 in the GameTimeCT Top 10 poll for much of the season before dropping to No. 2 in the final week.

Seeded fourth in the CIAC Div. I tournament, the Wave was set to face No. 12 Northwest Catholic in the opening round last Tuesday night, when the CIAC canceled all remaining playoff games.

Soon after, school systems, including Darien’s, began closing, with students moving to e-classes online.

Darien’s two ice hockey teams had 12 seniors in total — seven for the boys and five for the girls — and for those graduating, it’s been an eye-opening week.

“We wanted nothing more as seniors than to lay it all on the line one last time,” boys senior co-captain Bennett McDermott said. “It has been hard to overcome, but it really opens your eyes to the bigger picture in life. Yes, the one thing we have all dreamt about as kids has been stripped away from us, but at least we are healthy and fortunate being around the people we cherish every single day.”

McDermott is leaving the program alongside his fellow co-captain Jack Massey and seniors Matt Fiorita, Max Sharp, Cole Branca, Charlie Callery and Rex Elwell, who have helped Darien put together an impressive 35-11 record during the past two seasons.

“My heart goes out to the seniors,” Darien boys coach Mac Budd said. “It’s easier to deal with when you’re going to a game and you’re thinking ‘this could be it and I really have to go out and do my best.’ You’re prepared to deal with that, but obviously, this comes as a total shock to I think almost everyone.”

Darien’s girls are graduating senior co-captains Kit Arrix, Colleen Cassidy, Caitlin Chan and Cate Droogan, along with senior Grace Carlo.

They leave a program which has gone 71-13-3 during their four years at the school, with the Wave claiming state championships in 2017 and 2018, and taking the FCIAC title this year with a 4-2 win over New Canaan in the final.

The Wave won its state quarterfinal game, 7-0, over the East Catholic co-op (ETB) on Saturday, March 7, in what turned out to be their final game.

Although girls ice hockey is not a CIAC-sanctioned sport, the CHSGHA followed the CIAC’s lead and cancelled the remainder of its tournament a few hours after the other state events were canceled.

The Darien players found out the season had ended that afternoon.

“To be honest there wasn’t a lot to be said,” Darien girls hockey coach Jamie Tropsa said. “I told them there’s not much we can do about this and everybody’s trying to do what’s right for everybody. Unfortunately, things happen in life at certain times and you have to accept it. We have such a great group of kids and I can’t say enough about them, especially the seniors. To have their season end this way is heartbreaking.”

Of his four captains — Arrix, Cassidy, Chan and Droogan — Tropsa said they had grown tremendously as players and people the past four years.

“Our four captains this year all came in as freshmen, and they all had different things going for them,” Tropsa said. “They all expanded themselves in so many different ways. They went from being just skaters to being complete hockey players and incredible hockey players. The transformation for this group in their four years has been amazing and I’ve been very happy for them.”

The FCIAC as a whole was set up well in both tournaments. The girls state semifinals included three conference teams, with No. 4 New Canaan facing No. 1 Simsbury and the winner than taking on the Darien-Greenwich winner.

In the CIAC Div. I boys hockey tournament, the FCIAC had six teams among the 15 playoff teams, a group led by No. 2 New Canaan (19-2-1), No. 4 Darien, and No. 8 Greenwich (14-7-1). No. 10 Ridgefield (11-9-0) and No. 11 Fairfield (12-8-0) were also playing well and looking to make some noise.

“It’s disappointing,” Budd said. “Darien and New Canaan had good teams and had a decent chance of hopefully winning a few games and then who knows what can happen in a tournament. And Greenwich and Ridgefield were right there, too. The FCIAC was very well-positioned to make a good run and have teams that went far in that tournament.”

For the Darien seniors, the ending was swift, but they still walk away with plenty of fond memories of the program.

“Blue Wave hockey is more than just a sport to me, it’s a family,” McDermott said. “Being on the team for the past four years has established the Darien Ice House as my home, and my teammates as brothers.

“It’s hard to comprehend that we won’t get any closure or a chance to finish our final hockey season ever, but it’s impossible to forget the unreal memories I have created with my brothers from freshman year to the present day. I am so blessed for the opportunities and happiness Wave Puck has brought me. I’ll remember everyone who has made these years so special.”

david.stewart@hearstmediact.com; @dstewartsports