Darien girls hockey ices rival New Canaan 3-1 in state semifinals
Kate Bellissimo wasn’t on the Darien girls ice hockey team during the past two state championship campaigns. But the freshman is playing a major role in the the Blue Wave’s pursuit of a three-peat this year.
Bellissimo delivered a hat trick, scoring twice in the second period and once in the third, as Darien knocked off rival New Canaan, 3-1, in the CHSGHA State semifinals Friday at The Rinks at Shelton.
It was Darien’s first win in four tries against the Rams this season, as New Canaan had won two regular season meetings, 2-1 and 2-0, as well as a 3-2 victory in double overtime in the FCIAC semifinals.
“It was just so great that we were able to pull through,” Bellissimo said. “The first period was kind of slow, but after we scored the first goal, the adrenalin just kicked in. We knew what we had to do and I think we did a good job doing it.”
Prior to this season Darien had won 10 straight against New Canaan, but the Rams had turned the tables until the state semis.
“It’s funny how it’s been cyclical that way,” Darien head coach Jamie Tropsa said. “We’ve tried to win every one as hard as we tried to win this one, and this time it worked out for us. New Canaan’s a great hockey team, and they beat us three times this year. We knew what we were up against and these kids did a good job.”
“They’re defending state champs for a reason,” New Canaan head coach Rich Bulan said. “We got the monkey off our backs as far as being able to beat them, but we’re 1-1 in games that matter. We beat them in the FCIACs and they beat us in the states.
The Rams finished the season with a record of 19-5, with three losses to Greenwich, one loss to Darien, and an overtime loss to Amity early in the schedule.
“You lost to the defending state champs, and you beat them three times this year,” Bulan said he told his team. “You lost to the defending FCIAC champs (Greenwich) and you pushed them to the brink. It was a huge year.
The second-seeded Blue Wave (19-4) will now face the No. 4 Suffield/Enfield/Housatonic/Ellington/MLC co-op (14-2-1) in the state championship game at 4 p.m., Sunday, at Bennett Rink in West Haven. Suffield wiped out No. 9 Branford/East Haven/North Branford, 7-0, in Friday’s other semifinal game.
“We use three lines as much as we possibly can,” coach Tropsa said. “We’ve been blessed with a freshman class which has really stepped up and risen to the occasion, which is nice to see.”
Both defenses delivered strong performances, with Darien’s sophomore goalie Hallie Kreppein making 10 saves against 11 shots, and New Canaan’s freshman keeper Blythe Novick making 17 saves against 20 shots.
Darien’s defense featured senior co-captains Kiki Tropsa and Sally Cassidy, along with sophomore Cate Droogan and freshman Catherine Martin.
“That’s our other MO. We try to play three lines and fast and then really back check hard and always make sure we’re covering our own zone. Defensively, we’re strong and we try to take all that time and space away.
For New Canaan, junior Jess Eccleston anchored the defensive effort, with strong games from junior Katelyn Sparks, and freshman McKenna Harden and Sadie Frame.
After a scoreless opening period in which the shots were even at 6-6, the Blue Wave broke through for a pair of goals in the second stanza.
The first goal started with a rush by senior co-captain Corinne Bevill, who drew Novick to the right before firing a pass to Bellissimo on the left. The freshman popped the puck into the open side of the net for a 1-0 lead at the 4:43 mark.
It was the first time that Darien had a lead on New Canaan in four games this season.
The Wave struck again during a power play with 4:33 remaining in the second.
Kiki Tropsa threw the puck through traffic to the front of the net and Novick made the initial save. The rebound ricocheted in from and Bellissimo put it back in for a 2-0 lead. Bevill again assisted on the play.
“I thought the first five minutes (in the first period), we were great,” Bulan said. “Everything was down there; we didn’t get shots on goal, but I was happy territorially. What hurt us, being that we don’t go with a true third line, was killing off that penalty at the end of the first period and then getting another one right away in the second. That took some wind out of us, and then when they scored.”
New Canaan fought off another Darien power play early in the third period, and then cut the deficit in half on a goal with 9:23.
Freshman Anika Curri collected a loose puck behind the Wave net, skated to the left and hit senior co-captain Liz McCarthy with a perfect set-up pass for the goal to make it a 2-1 game.
“We came out in the third period the way we needed to and put a little more pressure on and get pucks to the net,” Bulan said.
“We didn’t want to let them back in and when they scored, we knew we had to put our heads down and keep pressuring them,” Bellissimo said of the Rams’ pressure. “We couldn’t let up, or let it affect us.”
New Canaan had a few chances over the next five minutes, but Darien’s defense held up and the Wave then turned the tables with some strong pressure.
Novick made a fantastic kick save on a shot from the point by Cassidy, but in the ensuing scramble, Bellissimo scored with an assist from Shea van den Broek to increase the lead to 3-1 with 2:28 to play.
New Canaan appeared to have cut the gap back to one with 1:55 remaining when Harden flung the puck from just outside the blue line and it skipped past Kreppein and into the net. The Rams were ruled offsides on the play, however, and the goal was waved off.
Darien then held on to get the two-goal victory.
For the Wave, it’ll be less than 48 hours until their next game and a chance to defend their title. In the meantime, they’ll try and get some rest.
“We definitely have to sleep first,” Bellissimo said with a smile. “We’re all tired. We’ll just keep our legs moving tomorrow at practice and just do all we can to mentally prepare. We’re close and that helps us get through these big games.”
CHSGHA State Girls Ice Hockey Semifinals — Darien 3, New Canaan 1
Friday, March 9, at The Rinks at Shelton
New Canaan 0-0-1 1
Darien 0-2-1 3
New Canaan: Liz McCarthy 1 goal; Anika Curri 1 assist
Darien: Kate Bellissimo 3 goals; Corinne Bevill 2 assists; Kiki Tropsa 1 assist; Shea van den Broek 1 assist
NC - Blythe Novick 17 saves
D - Hallie Kreppein 10 saves
NC - 11; D - 20