Darien played FCIAC girls hockey rival Greenwich four times last season, including twice during the postseason. So who did the Blue Wave open their 2019-2020 season against Wednesday night?
The schedule had Darien facing Greenwich, of course.
And the first of, what could be several meetings between the two squads went to the Blue Wave.
A two-goal second period and standout play from sophomore goalie Ella Whitticom powered Darien to a 2-0 win over Greenwich at Darien Ice House.
Last season saw Darien go 3-1 against Greenwich, its loss coming to the Cardinals in the FCIAC Tournament semifinals in overtime. The Blue Wave returned the favor a week later, eliminating the Cardinals in the state tournament quarterfinals.
“Greenwich is a fantastic team,” Darien coach Jamie Tropsa said. “If I could play them all the time I would, because us, New Canaan and Greenwich — when we play each other, it makes all of us better.”
Junior forwards Kelly Raymond and Kate Bellissimo each registered goals for Darien (1-0).
“Especially being our first game, we were a little nervous to come out against such a strong team,” Bellissimo said. “Everyone was super excited and it was nice to see that we have such good chemistry early in the season.”
Whitticom was one of the Blue Wave players who rose to the early-season occasion, making 15 saves for the shutout win.
“For a kid that never started a game of that magnitude in goal, she was great,” Tropsa said of Whitticom. “She played with a lot of confidence.”
Greenwich (1-1), which began its season with a road victory against Cheshire/Amity/North Haven on Monday, received numerous saves from junior goalie Hannah Goldenberg. The Cardinals struggled to generate scoring chances throughout. Their most productive period was the third, when they had six shots on goal.
“Darien came out hard and beat us to nearly every single puck,” said GHS coach Alex Lerchen, whose squad has appeared in the FCIAC Tournament final the past three seasons. “We need to be ready to go and we are going to have to forecheck a lot harder than that. Tonight, we definitely played a lot of defense and we have to execute a little better in the neutral zone.”
After a scoreless first period, Darien took a 1-0 lead on Greenwich with 12:26 remaining in the second period. Receiving a puck at the top of the left faceoff circle off a pass from junior forward Lucie Edwards, Raymond snapped a shot past Goldenberg, who seemed to be screened on the play, into the top corner of the goal, making it 1-0.
“We came out and we knew what we had to do,” Bellissimo said. “We have a lot of girls who can contribute and a lot of people on the bench, who can back us up when we are tired.”
On a power play following a GHS hooking penalty, the Blue Wave capitalized and increased their lead. Bellisimo knocked in a rebound off a scramble in front of the net. Senior forward Kaitlin Chan and junior forward Nelle Kniffin were each credited with assists on the goal.
“It’s nice to start the season on a good note,” Chan said. “We have a lot of depth, with a lot of speed. We have a lot of room for improvement, but this was definitely a good game for us.”
Goldenberg kept it a 2-0 game, making several saves during the third period and late in the second period.
“Hannah played a great game in net,” Lerchen said. “She stayed strong in net and gave us a chance.”
Said Goldenberg: “Our defense did a really good job of keeping shots to the outside and keeping the shots far and making it a lot easier for me. We’ve only had about five practices and it’s still early in the season.”
Darien spent a lot of time in Greenwich’s zone, forcing Cardinals defenders Sydney Orszulak Katie Piotrzkowski to work extra hard to get the puck out of their zone.
“We obviously didn’t play as well as we wanted to,” Orszulak said. “They beat us to the puck and won a lot of battles. We are definitely going to be practicing every day for a rematch. We know we have the skill to beat them, it just wasn’t our day. This game shows us that we need more communication and to make more accurate passes.”
Greenwich’s best scoring chances came during the final period, with senior forward Emma Wingrove applying pressure.
“The defensive effort from our team was great,” Whitticom said. “We were really on top of it today. I love playing against rivals. There are some nerves involved of course, but that’s the fun of the game. That’s what I have to do, save shots.”
Greenwich plays Wilton-Norwalk-McMahon at Winter Garden Ice Rink in Ridgefield on Friday. Darien goes up against Fairfield Ludlowe-Warde Friday at Wonderland of Ice.
“I loved how everyone kept attacking,” Darien senior defender Cate Droogan said. “They wanted to be on the puck, they skated fast and everyone was where they should be. Our speed and our depth is going to tire out teams. We have so many lines and we can do so many things.”
Said Lerchen: “We spent a lot of time letting the play come to us, but the hope is that you can learn from this. We have a young team, so we can learn from games like this.”