NEW CANAAN — In a typical season, a battle between the New Canaan and Darien field hockey teams would be a preview of a playoff showdown late in the postseason.
Under current circumstances, however, the latest game between the rivals could more succinctly be titled “Round Two.”
Freshman Blake Wilks sandwiched two goals around a penalty stroke from Maddy Hult as the Blue Wave topped the host Rams 3-1 Monday at Dunning Field in New Canaan.
The victory evened the teams’ season series at 1-1 — New Canaan won the opener 3-2 in OT — and they’ll meet one more time during the regular season on Nov. 3 in Darien.
Playing three times has made for an interesting addition to the rivalry in a shortened season.
“The energy here is huge,” Darien’s Lindsey Olson said. “It’s like FCIAC and it’s like states. Every game versus them, every though we don’t have a packed stadium, it’s always intense.”
“Given COVID times, I’d forever take on strong teams like this,” Darien coach Mo Minicus said. “It’s easy for these kids to get up for a game like this, and it’s easy for them to play hard. It is what it is this season, so we’re taking it the best that we can.”
The game itself was a physical battle, and both teams generated offensive opportunities.
Darien (4-0-0-1) had a 12-10 edge in shots on the cage, and New Canaan (4-1-0-0) held a 9-7 advantage in penalty corners.
In the first meeting, the Rams had rallied from a 2-0 deficit to force overtime where Shawna Ferraro won it, but this time around, the Wave gained a 1-0 lead in the second quarter and held the lead the rest of the way
“Today’s game was a lot different than the first game, in terms of it was a lot more physical,” New Canaan coach Mary Clare Snediker said. “The first game was a lot more clean hockey played both ways, with possession passing, give-and-gos through the midfield. Today was a different style of play.
“We created some good opportunities especially towards the end of the second half. We put an extra offensive player in and that helped us generate some more attack. We did have a stretch where we had a number of corners in a row and it’s unfortunate we weren’t able to capitalize.”
“We had a disappointing loss to them in the first game,” Minicus said. “We wanted to prove that we deserved to win this game and it was a battle. It was a very, very physical game. Their goalie is very good, so we had to earn every single goal and we did.
Wilks netted the first goal during a scramble in the opening minute of the second quarter, taking a pass from Ryan Hapgood and putting it into the open right side of the cage.
In the fourth, Darien was given a penalty stroke and Hult cashed in.
The Wave’s final goal came with 3:27 remaining, and featured a pair of remarkable stops by Ram goalie Megan Lydon (5 saves) before Wilks scored on a rebound. Molly McGuckin assisted on that tally.
New Canaan averted the shutout when Marlee Smith hit the cage with 1:08 to play.
Smith’s goal was the first allowed by the Blue Wave defense in a four-game stretch since the loss in the opener.
“We changed our formation a bit so we have one more person down there, which has made it much easier for communication” Olson said. “We’re not scrambling with who has who, we almost have two people on the ball at a time, which is a huge help. We’re loud and we’re intimidating because we’re loud and we’re always talking.”
With one win each in the series, the two rivals said they’ll be ready to answer the bell for the third meeting.
“I’m a senior, it’s my third year on the team, and every game means so much,” Olson said. “New Canaan has always been one of our hardest games. I play club with a lot of them, and it’s super competitive, very physical out there. In the end, it means so much for us to be out there.”