No. 3 Notre Dame-West Haven beats No. 2 Darien in OT

DARIEN — Ryan Ahern said he could hear his coach telling him to get off the ice, but, he could also see teammate John D’Errico with the puck near the boards on the opposite side.

It was time for a split-second decision.

“(D’Errico) made eye contact with me,” Ahern said. “I saw the puck come across, it was wobbling, so I stepped into it and took the shot. I thought it was going to go over the net but it went in.”

Ahern’s goal with one minute remaining in overtime put the cap on a dramatic game, as No. 3 Notre Dame-West Haven rallied from a two-goal deficit to defeat No. 2 Darien 3-2 Monday night at Darien Ice House.

The win ended Notre Dame’s four-game regular-season losing streak against the Blue Wave.

“Darien is a tremendous team and to beat them any time in their building is a gut-check type of situation,” Notre Dame coach Larry Vieira said. “The last four games we’ve played against them they’ve run us out of the building and after the first period, I thought here we go again. I’m just so proud of my kids that they didn’t die and they showed the maturity level that we’re looking for from a senior-laden team.”

The victory will almost assuredly put Notre Dame (4-0) at the top of the next GameTimeCT state poll, as the Green Knights are the only team in the top six to make it through Week 1 unscathed.

No. 1 Fairfield Prep lost to No. 4 New Canaan, and New Canaan lost to Notre Dame-West Haven. Darien (1-2), which fell to Prep on Saturday, has now lost two straight games.

“It was a tough game,” Wave coach Mac Budd said. “The first period was the best period we’ve played all year. We did everything we talked about in the locker room: We played with grit, we got pucks to the net, we got bodies to the net and gave ourselves second chances. In the second, we started to get off track and (Notre Dame) is a gritty team and if you give them a little bit, they’ll take it and the momentum changed.”

The Green Knights’ defense had been in fine form thus far, surrendering just six goals in their first four games.

Darien, however, came out flying and dominated the first period. The Wave outshot the Knights 11-2 in the frame and took the lead on a goal by James Conway with a beautiful feed from Billy Branca.

Daniel Lowe extended the Wave’s lead with an unassisted tally 2:43 into the second period, but Notre Dame was able to kill back-to-back penalties, including a short 5-on-3, midway through the second.

Ahern then gave the Green Knights some life with a goal with 4:50 remaining in the second.

The Wave, which outshot Notre Dame 36-22 in the game, was unable to find the net after the second goal against Knights’ All-State goalie Connor Smith, who racked up 34 saves.

“I’ve been saying all along, no disrespect to any goalie, I feel Connor is the best goalie in the state,” Vieira said. “He’s a special kid and kids want to play for him. It’s a wonderful feeling to know that you have a goalie there who’s going to make the first and the second save.”

Smith and the Knights’s penalty kill was huge in turning the tide during the second period, but Budd said he was happy with the improvement he saw from Darien’s power play.

“I thought our power play looked good,” Budd said. “Our power play was much improved from the other night against Fairfield Prep. We got pucks to the net and we got second chances. Their goalie is superb, you’ve going to have to beat him, you’re going to have to get a second chance, and there’s not going to be any freebies.”

Trailing 2-1 after two frames, John-Michael Childs netted the equalizer for Notre Dame with 8:18 remaining in regulation, and Ahern’s second goal in OT sent the Knights home undefeated.

PLAYER OF THE GAME

Ryan Ahern, Notre Dame-West Haven: The senior started Notre Dame’s engines with a second-period goal, and then cashed in for the game-winner in overtime.

QUOTABLE

“Each game means everything to us. Our seniors were cut short of a state championship last year and we thought we had a good chance. Now, every game means a lot to us and we have to play every game like it’s our last because you never know when it’s going to your last.” — Notre Dame-West Haven senior Ryan Ahern.

david.stewart@hearstmediact.com; @dstewartsports

NOTRE DAME-WEST HAVEN 3, DARIEN 2

NDWH 0 1 1 1 — 3

DARIEN 1 1 0 0 — 2

Scoring: NDWH - Ryan Ahern 2g; John-Michael Childs 1g; John D’Errico 2a; Zach Schroeder 1a; D - James Conway 1g; Daniel Lowe 1g; Billy Branca 1a; Goalies: NDWH - Connor Smith 34 saves; D - Chris Schofield 19 saves.

Records: Notre Dame-West Haven 4-0; Darien 1-2