NEW CANAAN — New Canaan was looking to tune up for a big-time game. Staples was looking to assert itself as a big-time team.
That is the simplistic version of Tuesday night’s much anticipated boys lacrosse showdown, a 7-4 New Canaan win.
It isn’t very often that a game between two 8-0 teams isn’t the biggest one of the week, but this is Darien Week for the Rams.
Fortuitously, the Wreckers came at a perfect time on the schedule, providing a proper tune-up, too skilled an opponent for the Rams to take for granted.
“It keeps us ready to go,” said Ryan O’Connell, whose lone goal of the night was also the biggest of the game. “Especially this Staples team. We weren’t looking past them at all.”
Against an inferior team, perhaps New Canaan slides by on skill alone and does little to prep for the biggest regular-season game of the year. Instead, the defense rose to the occasion, weathering two three-minute penalties for stick violations and allowing just one goal while playing down for nine minutes.
“That’s phenomenal man-down defense,” New Canaan coach Chip Buzzeo said. “Our man-down defense, anchored by (goaltender) Drew Morris, is phenomenal. I don’t want to play nine minutes of man-down defense but that was a good turning point of the game. “We’ve just got to stay out of the penalty box. We can’t get so many stick penalties.”
The second one, with five seconds remaining in the first half, came with the Rams ahead, 5-3. That was the same score by the time the teams played at even strength. The Rams set up their offense and O’Connell scored what proved to be the turning-point goal.
“I have so much respect for our defense, they really hung in there for us,” O’Connell said. “Had that not happened it could have been a very different ballgame. They did their best and then the offense was able to capitalize.”
It was frustrating for Staples coach Paul McNulty and his players. They have been on the cusp of Darien-New Canaan status for several years, and the fanfare that will take place at Darien on Saturday always eclipses all, including this being a very big week for the Wreckers. They, too, have another big game upcoming, Friday against Ridgefield, which also figures prominently in the playoff race.
“New Canaan played great,” McNulty said. “They were fast, they were skilled and they gave us a difficult time from the beginning of the game. We played a very good team. I think our defense did a very good job.”
McNulty initially misread a reporter’s question about climbing that final step to consistent elite status, interrupting to emphasize that moral victories in Westport disappeared during the early part of President Obama’s first term in office.
And he’s right. Staples has outgrown cosmetically pleasing defeats. They are roadblocks to the last stop.
“When you aim very high and your goals are very high and you take a hit and you lose, the hit’s a little tougher,” McNulty said. “We will use the negatives to build into positives. We can do better.”
Mike Reale scored three times for the Wreckers, while Peter Burger played well in goal.
Peter Swindell finished with two goals for the Rams, while six different players scored. Morris was superb; his point-blank save on Tanner Wood with 4:40 left as good as any you will ever see.
“Oh my that was ridiculous,” O’Connell said. “He bailed me out. I took a terrible shot down here and he makes an incredible save down there. He’s a stud. He’s doing wonders for this team.”
While the Wreckers look to regroup, it is now officially Darien Week in New Canaan.
“I think we’re ready,” Buzzeo said. “We have three days of practice to fix a few things. It’s a great day for lacrosse when New Canaan and Darien get together.”