During a rare three-game losing skid earlier this season, the Darien girls ice hockey team was struggling to create offensive opportunities.
Fast forward a few weeks and the Blue Wave is now getting goals up and down the roster.
Six different players scored, including two short-handed, as Darien knocked off a strong West Haven/Sacred Heart Academy co-op team, 6-2, Wednesday afternoon at Stamford Twin Rinks.
The Wave gained a 2-0 lead in the first period and although West Haven kept it close through two frames, Darien held the advantage throughout.
“In those (earlier) games we weren’t making our own opportunities and the puck wasn’t bouncing our way,” Darien head coach Jamie Tropsa said. “Things just were not happening for us. Today, they did and the girls were taking advantage of the opportunities.”
The result pushed Darien’s win streak to four and its record to 7-3, as it moves back up the state rankings. West Haven had an eight-game winning streak snapped and dropped to 8-2.
“They fought hard but we came up short,” West Haven/Sacred Heart Academy head coach Erin Blake said. “Darien’s a great team; we know that every year going into it. We have yet to beat them. Jamie always has a good squad and they’ve got some numbers there. For the most part, we know what we need to work on.”
The Wave had offense from a lot of sources and overcame the loss of top scorer and senior co-captain Shea van den Broek, who left the game with a leg injury early in the second quarter with Darien up 2-0.
Although they surrendered two goals in that second frame, the Wave stepped up after their captain’s departure.
“For me, it made me want to go out there even harder and I’m sure a lot of people felt that way.,” junior co-captain Cate Droogan said. “When somebody who is such a great player and is your role model gets hurt, you want to work as hard as you can to make up for it.”
“She’s going to be fine,” Tropsa said of van den Broek. “We just didn’t feel like today was the best day to put her back in there. She took one shift and it was not the right thing to do. We had a little let-down right after she got hurt and they scored right away, but then they stepped up.”
Sophomores Kate Bellissimo and Nelle Kniffin each had a goal and an assist for Darien, and Droogan had two assists, helping set up the Wave’s second and third goals. Junior co-captain Colleen Cassidy, junior Caitlin Chan, and sophomores Catherine Martin and Kelly Raymond also scored.
For West Haven, juniors Taylor Nowak and Brooke McNabola scored, senior co-captain Veronica Lynn had an assist, and senior co-captain Kyleen Crowe made 23 saves in goal.
The game was scoreless until the 10:45 mark of the first period, when Clark fired a shot from the point and Bellissimo cleaned up the rebound.
With 30 seconds remaining in the period, Droogan sent a high shot at Crowe, and the perfectly-positioned Kniffin redirected the puck inside the right pipe for a 2-0 lead.
West Haven cut the deficit in half when Nowalk back-handed a goal on a rebound of a Lynn shot 42 seconds into the second period.
Darien’s defense stepped up under some pressure in the second period, with Droogan, Martin, freshmen Ceci Stein and Sarah Hearns, and junior goalie Hallie Kreppein (15 saves) helping to keep the lead at one.
“They put it in behind us a lot, so that made us work on our breakouts and make solid passes out of the zone,” Droogan said of the defensive effort. “We had to make sure we made quick passes because they’re a really fast team and they were on us quick.”
With 3:29 remaining in the second, Droogan sent a pass into the right circle for Martin, who slid the puck through a screen and under the leg of Crowe for a 3-1 lead.
West Haven responded when McNabola skated into the slot and unleashed a low shot past Kreppein with 49 seconds remaining in the second period.
Just 38 seconds later, however, Darien netted a shorty when Kniffin sent a pass from the boards in front to a wide open Chan, who buried the puck for a 4-2 lead.
A goal by Raymond early in the third period gave the Wave a three-goal cushion, and Cassidy ended the scoring with another short-handed goal with 2:09 to play.
“The girls have heart and they try to fight until the last second,” Blake said. “We were just drained and that’s when we made careless mistakes. We’ve been doing very well — we won eight in a row — but they challenged us today. We have the speed and the passes, but Darien can do it just as well.”
For the Wave, it’s been season of streaks — they started with three wins and then lost three to fall to .500. The current four-game win streak has them again trending up.
“We started putting our heart into it more,” Droogan said. “We started skating harder at practice and getting into the mindset where every time you step on the ice, you give it 100%”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Cate Droogan, Darien. The junior tri-captain dished out a pair of assists and helped lead a solid defensive effort for the Blue Wave.
“Things are finally starting to click. We never really had an issue with the effort — the effort was always there and in some regards, I think we were trying a little too hard and trying to be too perfect. Now, we’re just reacting a little bit quicker.” — Darien head coach Jamie Tropsa
DARIEN 6, WEST HAVEN/SACRED HEART ACADEMY 2
West Haven 0 2 0 – 2
Darien 2 2 2 – 6
First Period: D – Kate Bellissimo (Lucie Edwards, Carolyn Clark) 10:45; D – Nelle Kniffin (Cate Droogan) 14:30; Second Period: WH – Taylor Nowak (Veronica Lynn) 1:00; D – Catherine Martin (Droogan) 11:31; WH – Brooke McNabola 0:49; D – Caitlin Chan (Kniffin) 14:49; Third Period: D – Kelly Raymond (Bellissimo) 1:43; D – Colleen Cassidy (Kit Arrix) 12:51
WH – Kyleen Crowe 23 saves
D – Hallie Kreppein 15 saves
Shots: WH 17, D 29