The wrong side of revenge
STAMFORD -- There aren't many teams that have the capability of putting three goals on the scoreboard against the Darien girls hockey team.
Unfortunately, New Canaan is one of them, and the Rams avenged last year's FCIAC loss to Darien by defeating the Blue Wave 3-0 at Terry Conners Rink last Saturday.
The Blue Wave were stopped by a team that only lost one game all season (to Greenwich), and that was a game Darien head coach Al Gurney said he believed they probably should have won.
Two and a half minutes into Saturday's game, after the Rams had camped out in Darien's zone early, tournament MVP Olivia Hompe scored to give New Canaan a 1-0 lead.
"That jump-started the game," Rams senior Shelby Barada said. "We knew it was possible from there."
Hompe came down on the wing, took it wide on the defense and had a last-second change of plans when deciding to take her shot on Darien goalie Katharine Macomber.
"I think they weren't expecting it because I usually cut back to the middle," Hompe said. "Then I had the lane, and I know she's a great goalie and really good up top -- and I usually shoot up top -- so I decided to put it low on her far pad."
Boom. A one-goal lead, just like that. It's all New Canaan would need, but it would still get more. Rams head coach Rich Bulan admitted he was taken aback by how frequently his team was roaming the Blue Wave's zone.
"We score the first one, then Madzie Carroll comes out of her defensive position and almost scores," Bulan said. "Then Olivia scores another one and I thought, Wait a minute, we're putting a lot more pressure on them than we usually do."
The Rams took a 2-0 lead 2:37 into the second period on a power-play goal. Bea Eppler was on the side, by the boards, and curled back around. She passed the puck over to Hompe, who was waiting for the one-timer.
"I think she (Macomber) was screened," Hompe said.
She was indeed, and the shot went waist high and zipped past Macomber.
"She plays like an adult, she acts like an adult, she's got a ton of maturity," Bulan said of Hompe, who has been embedded the starting front line alongside Eppler and Jana Persky.
"Jana Persky and Bea Eppler were the perfect fit for her," he added. "They let her go, let her be herself. They said, `Listen, we'll do what we can because we're going to win.' ... A lot these upperclassmen take these kids under their wing. We have a saying here: When you come here, you're not a freshman. You're just a part of New Canaan High School girls ice hockey."
The game reached its final score with 6:45 to go in the third. The Rams were shorthanded, but just as Eppler was coming out of the penalty box Hompe lifted the puck 20 feet down the ice, reaching a speeding Eppler, who lured Macomber far enough out of the crease that one deke fooled the Blue Wave goalie and gave the Rams their ultimate score.
"The coaches were very helpful," Hompe said. "I could hear them yelling, `She's coming out! She's coming out!' I knew I had to get it over the day and I backhanded up there and Bea made a great play after that."
Gurney said: "That's just bad luck right there. The puck's coming, she's out of the box and gets behind you. Right place, right time. That was kind of the nail right there."
Darien (16-5-1) hadn't allowed three goals since a 3-2 loss to Ridgefield Dec. 21.
Bulan said he expected his team to win entering the game, but despite New Canaan's dominance all season season long he didn't look too far ahead.
"You could take Darien, us, Simsbury, Greenwich, Hamden, throw us all in a hat and pull us out and you're going to get an equal game every time," Bulan said. "We never thought [an FCIAC title] was a forgone conclusion."
At 2-0, the game turned, as the officials couldn't stop blowing their whistles and calling penalties. While New Canaan hit a post and Darien hit a crossbar, the officials blew play dead with 10.8 seconds left in the second period as Darien apparently scored off a scramble. The goal was disallowed.
Gurney was gracious, if not a little frustrated, in defeat.
"I think penalties were a big factor in the game," Gurney said. "You could never get your feet going. You could never get into the game after the first period. ... There was one goal down here. Even one official told me it went in. The other told me it didn't. Well, why's he blowing the whistle when the puck's going into the net? That's not good officiating. Obviously it would've been 2-1 at that point. It could've changed [New Canaan's] attitude."
Still, after the almost-goal, New Canaan was called for two penalties just one second later. That gave Darien a 5-on-3 advantage for the opening 1:50 of the third period.
"There's a saying that a 2-0 lead is the hardest lead to keep in hockey," Durkin said. "So we told ourselves, Look, we're in a great position but we can't let up because they're going to come out very hard."
Charlotte Spitzfaden, yet again, came up big in a big spot. She had 13 saves in the second period and eight more in the third as she was flawless against the wave of Darien power plays. She finished with 31 saves in all to earn her ninth shutout of the season, her 63rd career win and 34th career shutout.
"It'd be nice to come off the ice and say, `We should've won the game, you played well enough to win' but we didn't," Gurney said. "They were the better team and deserving of the championship. We had our power-play opportunities that we didn't capitalize on."
The Darien coach praised how fluidly the Rams are able to move on the ice and so rarely get flustered whenever the rubber is in their possession.
"They're just better with the puck," Gurney said. "They move and cycle well. They make smart decisions. Their quickness and their ability to protect the puck is their strength."
Macomber (29 saves) was acrobatic in net but the forearm she delivered to Hompe at the final buzzer is sure to be remembered when these two face each other for the fourth and final time this season in Friday's state semifinal at Yale.
-- Rich DePreta contributed to this article.