Darien—It didn’t end well for either team.

Looking exclusively at the last game for both the New Canaan and Darien boys hockey teams, it’s easy to judge their seasons as unsuccessful. It’s easy to be negative.

Darien was routed by Ridgefield 7-0 in the Division I state quarterfinals. The Tigers scored three goals in the first, Darien never had a chance.

New Canaan fell to Hamden 2-1 in triple overtime of the first round. The offense couldn’t get it done on a night when their defense and goalie were at their best.

It would be easy to think that way.

But it would also be incorrect.

Broaden the scope just a little for the Blue Wave. One game prior to facing the FCIAC champion Tigers, Darien upset No. 4 Notre Dame-West Haven in overtime 3-2. Earlier in the season, the Wave fell to NDWH 5-2 at home. Using the Green Knights as a barometer, Darien clearly showed a marked improvement from January to March.

And for the past two seasons, that’s really been coach Mac Budd’s M.O.

He front-loads the schedule with top tier teams from across the state, and while the record may not reflect it, shows his team it can play with anyone, and gives them big game experience in the early going. Then, as conference play begins, Darien is able to hit its stride.

Look at the ebbs and flows of this season. The Blue Wave started the year 1-6, losing to powerhouse teams like Fairfield Prep, Xavier and Greenwich. The mid-stretch was up and down for Darien, getting a quality win against Greenwich in mid-January, then falling to Staples in its next contest.

When it came time for the final stretch, Darien closed the year with a 6-2-1 run.

A few miles away, New Canaan was following a similar pattern—only not intentionally.

Similar to Darien, the Rams had a hellish early slate, but they faced another disadvantage. After advancing to the FCIAC finals and state semis a year ago, New Canaan lost 13 seasons and made a change at coach.

In his first year at the helm, Jones never wavered. Not even after his team got off to 0-4 start, getting outscored by a total of 15 goals in those contests.

Things looked bleak, but New Canaan rallied to win its next three, and five of six. After a three-game losing streak, New Canaan closed the year with a 6-1 run, the only loss being to Darien in overtime. The Rams won their final five games of the season, rewarding Jones’ faith.

So, what’s it all mean?

For Darien, it’s that Budd has his formula. Early on it’s going to be a slog, but if Darien can survive, it should be playing quality hockey come playoff time.

Fr the Rams, it means Jones knows what he’s doing. Once New Canaan was able to learn his system, the Rams were as hot as anyone at the end of the regular season.

And the future is bright for both teams.

Both will return their starting goalies from this season—Both Darien’s Henri Pfeifle and New Canaan’s Dylan Shane are currently in their junior year.

The Rams will have the luxury of Gunnar Granito for another year. The three-year starter was one of the best scorers in the state this season, and could be unstoppable as a senior.

Darien doesn’t have a star of Granito’s caliber, but will return guys like Bennett McDermott (sophomore), CJ Hathaway (junior) and James Gregory (junior) among a slew of others that gained experience this season.

Both teams are set at coach, goalie and returning talent. There’s no reason to think either shouldn’t be competing with championship aspirations next season.

aparelli@bcnnew.com @reportedbytheAP