DARIEN -- Going head-to-head against your biggest rival while also playing your third game in as many days is no easy task, but Darien continued to ride its wave of momentum to close out its regular season campaign with a dominant 5-1 victory over New Canaan Monday night at the Darien Ice Rink.
Unlike the relatively evenly-played scoreless tie between the two teams back on Dec. 19, Darien was able to win nearly every battle for a loose puck and capitalized on its scoring opportunities to run away with the win.
"We knew (three games in three days) was going to be tough. The first two games we had about six hours of sleep in between," said Darien's Brendan Hathaway, who scored twice. "We knew we were going to be tired, but we had to push through. That's what we're going to have to do in the playoffs as well."
The Rams notched the game's first four shots on goal, but the Blue Wave countered when Nic Tuzinkiewicz scored on a one-timer after receiving a pass from Hathaway. Trent Bergin also notched his first of two assists.
"I knew the emotions would be there and the energy would be there, but I wasn't sure if the legs would be there (in the third game in three days), but they surprised me today," Gerwig said. "This is what we've wanted to work for from day from last year: Try to get that No. 1 seed again. It's a great way to finish off the FCIAC schedule playing a rival, and it was a good win."
Despite being outplayed in the first period, New Canaan appeared to put itself back in the game when defenseman Stephen Mettler scored on a shot from the blue line with only seven seconds left, but the potential momentum swing turned out to be nothing more than a mirage.
"I think after we scored that goal, we relaxed a little bit thinking that we were kind of on top in this game. But really, there wasn't a single point in this game that we outhustled them," New Canaan's Puck Richardson said. "They hustled all over the ice and beat us to every puck. We were second in both zones and they deserved it all the way. The 5-1 score shows how we played."
Just over four minutes into the second period, Darien took the lead for good on an unassisted goal by Jack Knowlton. Knowlton won the battle for the puck behind the New Canaan net and scored past Rams' goalie Chris Koennecke, who lost his stick on the play.
Less than three minutes later, the Blue Wave doubled their lead when Aidan Loh sprung Hathaway into the New Canaan zone. Hathaway used some nifty stick-handling to score through the five-hole to double his team's lead. With 1:01 remaining in the middle stanza, Hathaway scored his second goal with assists from Jack Pardue and Bergin.
"The first one I saw the five-hole open and had to make sure to get it in the net, had to get the team going and get that spark," Hathaway said. "I think their defenseman knocked it in, so you've got to give that goal to (Jack) Pardue."
In the third period, Darien's Connor Davis closed out the scoring with an unassisted goal.
With the game out of reach late in the third, frustration appeared to take over for the Rams, who took two five-minute major penalties for illegal head contact in the final 2:25.
Trent Nader took the first of the two penalties but was not disqualified from the contest. Richardson took the second and was disqualified, meaning that he will have to sit out New Canaan's regular season finale at Notre Dame-Fairfield on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at the Milford Ice Pavillion.
"Frustration built and I put full responsibility on myself for that hit at the end of the game," Richardson said. "Unfortunately, that's just something that comes with sports, but you have to learn how to keep your cool in those situations and I wasn't able to do so."
With the win, the Blue Wave locked up the top seed in the eight-team FCIAC playoff tournament and will play host to the No. 8 seed in the quarterfinals.
"We've got a little time to heal from this," Gerwig said. "It's the first time we played three periods, we felt, in a long time. We were able to stay confident even though (Koennecke) was keeping us off the board early."
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Darien 5, New Canaan 1
New Canaan 1 0 0 - 1
Darien 1 3 1 -- 5
Records: New Canaan 12-5-2 (10-2 FCIAC), Darien 14-2-2 (9-0-1 FCIAC)
Goals: NC-Stephen Mettler; D-Brendan Hathaway 2, Nic Tuzinkiewicz, Jack Knowlton, Connor Davis. Assists: D-Trent Bergin 2, Hathaway, Aidan Loh, Jack Pardue. Goalies: NC-Chris Koennecke (23 saves); D-Michael Collins (16). Shots on Goal: NC-17, Darien-28.