Bruno's dramatic goal keeps hope alive for playoff berth
With a sole opportunity just atop the crease, forward Nick Bruno may have salvaged the season for the Darien boys hockey team on Saturday afternoon.
A two-game losing streak heading into the contest didn't bode well for the playoff aspirations of the Blue Wave, nor did an early deficit to Ridgefield. But with a mere 19 seconds to go in a 1-1 tilt, Bruno corralled a rebound and tallied the game-winner in a hard-fought 2-1 Darien triumph over the visiting Tigers.
"There's no question about it, we needed this win," said Bruno. "It's been an up-and-down season so far, but we definitely played with a ton of heart today."
A scoring strike by Ridgefield defenseman Chas South just 26 seconds into the contest didn't paint a promising early picture for the host Blue Wave. Having suffered a shutout defeat at the hands of St. Joseph in its previous game, the Darien scoring drought continued through the game's first period.
It certainly wasn't due to lack of effort though.
"Our work ethic was outstanding," Darien head coach Larry Vieira said. "Even though we were trailing early on, I thought we outplayed them. Our guys were working extremely hard."
Soon enough, all the loose pucks won and all that tempo-pushing paid off for the host Blue Wave. Darien snapped its 64-minute scoring drought in grand fashion when Connor Sullivan ripped a wrist shot from the point and through traffic to even things at 1-1. With things knotted up at the 10-minute mark of the second stanza, Darien goalie Will Love denied 12 Tigers shots to keep it that way.
Love denied a handful of Tigers before South set up shop at the blue line, only to watch his slap shot catch the far post before caroming out of harm's way.
Darien owned a 10-8 shot advantage in the final period, but Tigers netminder T.J. Zandri turned away a one-timer by Bruno and a blast by John Baker. George Gregory found himself on the doorstep but fired just inches wide of the Ridgefield net, keeping things even as the final period wore on.
Standing in their way was Darien captain Connor Sullivan, who took the body to break up a crucial two-on-one opportunity for the Tigers.
With the score still tied heading into a face-off and just 20 seconds to play, the stage was set for an electrifying finish. At that point, Bruno took center stage.
In the moments leading up to the game-changing sequence, Bruno and company took heed to the words of head coach Larry Vieira and executed the dramatic script just as planned.
"Coach drew up the play and it unfolded just like we hoped it would," said Bruno. "He (Richard Gregory) won the face off, we were able to put the puck on net, and I was in a position to finish the play."
It's been a whirlwind campaign for Darien, as the team enjoyed a four-game winning streak before suffering two straight defeats prior to Saturday's big win. For a squad that needs three more wins to clinch a spot in the state tournament and a group that is still vying for a trip to the FCIAC tourney, finding consistency and not letting go remains the key.
"We needed this game but we can't let up at all," said Bruno, one of several sophomores on the young Darien squad. "We need to continue to work hard on being consistent, and we need to play with this type of effort the rest of the way."