NEW CANAAN — For 90 seconds early today in the fourth quarter, the New Canaan attack could not find a seam in the Darien defense.
The Blue Wave led at the time, 9-2, meaning the outcome was pretty well in hand and the Rams needed to try and score quickly. But good shots were not forthcoming.
“That’s individual effort, locking down your man and not giving up easy passes,” said Sam Cragin, part of the Blue Wave’s dogged but overshadowed defensive unit. “That was our whole game plan. Not slipping mentally.”
The most anticipated game of the regular season turned out to be very anticlimactic. Darien jumped out to a 9-0 lead, shutting out the Rams for nearly 32 minutes and coming away with an impressive 12-4 road win one week before the start of the postseason.
“We got off to a really good start and frazzled them from the beginning,” said Bruce Ferguson, a middle who made his presence felt on both ends. “They have a lot of weapons on offense but it is a testament to our defense. We’ve been lockdown all year honestly. We’ve played great offenses and we’re just going to continue to do our thing.”
Henri Pfeifle and Jackson Peters each scored three goals for the Blue Wave (12-3, 10-0 FCIAC), which likely locked up the top seed in the league playoffs. Colin Ruppenstein added two goals.
But this was a day for the defense, and it would be difficult picking out a most valuable player. Sophomore goaltender Andy Demopoulos continued his outstanding season, stopping 15 shots.
“Andy’s been the backbone of our whole team, which as a sophomore is pretty incredible,” Cragin said.
In the individual matchups, Tyler Strub did a great job containing the Rams’ Quintin O’Connell.
“We put out best defender on their best offensive player,” Darien coach Jeff Brameier said. “(Strub) worked hard. We know where (O’Connell) likes to go to and shoot and we didn’t let him get too many high-percentage shots because he’s going to stick those.”
Darien’s Blake Cellar and Connor Olson stood out shadowing Chris Canet. The rest of the unit was unyielding.
“It all stems from taking away what they like to do,” Brameier said. “It forced them into attacking our short sticks and I thought Bruce Ferguson played a great game all over the field.”
The other key was Matt Freeman holding his own on draws. After going 0 for 4 in the first quarter, he won five of the remaining eight.
“The biggest question was how Matt would handle faceoff X,” Brameier said. “He went up against two Division I commits and won his fair share. That definitely kept us in the game, and then Demopoulos had a tremendous game in goal. Whenever you can combine your save percentage and your faceoff percentage and it’s over 100 you are going to win, and that’s what we had today. Obviously we had goals but it was really on the other side. We shut them out for a half. That was smart possessions and our offense obviously stepped up too. A lot of contributors.”
A stifling defense is important to the Blue Wave’s offensive style of play.
“We take pride in turning our defense into offense,” said Ferguson, who scored a goal in transition. “We try to turn the ball over a lot and we play a run and gun style of offense. You saw today we were getting after it. A lot of fastbreaks from us. A high-tempo offense, and we strive on that. We can out-run people. In Darien we take pride. We’re athletic kids and we love to run.”
After tough losses to St. Anthony’s and Seton Hall Prep, the Blue Wave have rebounded with four straight wins.
New Canaan (10-5, 8-1) had its seven-game winning streak ended. Last year the Rams lost to Darien three times by a total of four goals.
“Darien’s a great team and they played phenomenal today,” New Canaan coach Chip Buzzeo said. “Obviously I would have liked a better game. I think as a coach I have to look at myself first and take the lion’s share of the responsibility. The last thing I want to do is blame kids for anything. I believe in them. I have to make sure we are the better team if we get a chance to play those guys again.”
Brameier and his players agreed they were in an enviable position for the postseason.
“Love where this team is,” Ferguson said. “Our worst is behind us and we are going to celebrate this win, but come the playoffs, do or die, we’ll be ready.”