DARIEN — Early in the season, the Darien and New Canaan hockey teams battled each other looking for their first win of the season.
What transpired was an 8-1 drubbing by the Blue Wave on a Saturday morning at the Darien Ice House.
On Friday at 2:40 p.m. the teams will battle again, this time with FCIAC playoff hopes on the line.
“It’s going to be a heck of a game on Friday,” Darien coach Mac Budd said. “Anyone who looks at that first game and thinks that those two teams are that far apart are simply missing the fact that both teams are both very similar in almost every aspect. It’s two teams with a reasonable amount of skill, some experience, but a lot of that experience is younger.”
It’s also two teams that have seemed to find their way as the season has progressed.
“For us, the biggest thing is we’ve tightened everything up defensively compared to that point in the season,” New Canaan coach Clark Jones said. “I think it’ll look a lot different, but who knows? I think the biggest thing for us is, not long after that we started to play the way we wanted to play.”
Darien sits at third in the FCIAC with a 5-1-1 conference record, and New Canaan is battling for a spot at 3-3.
“It’s a continuous process and everybody is positive and looking at this as, there’s steps in the process,” Jones said. “It’s not going to be perfect, a lot of these kids didn’t play together last year, so for us it’s about just continuing to jell and play the right way.”
Both teams got off to tough starts to the year.
Darien began at 1-6, while New Canaan started off by losing their first four contests before rebounding to sit at 6-8 overall on the season.
“With regard to our team, the most important thing was simply the schedule,” Budd said. “We opened the season playing the top teams in the state and while I think that we battled hard and were certainly in those games, I was hoping that the results would be somewhat better.”
That start has been beneficial to both teams in the long run, Darien has won its last three contests while New Canaan is coming off a 6-3 win over first-place Staples—snapping a three-game skid.
“I am happy now that those games clearly helped us to the point where our record now over the last nine games is 6-2-1,” Budd said. “The kids learned a lot from that experience of playing those top teams and it’s clearly helped them down the stretch.”
One major advantage will be whichever team can stay out of the penalty box. The environment and stakes are high enough, but penalties have plagued both teams at certain points throughout the year, Darien in particular.
“The big thing is going to be discipline in the game,” Jones said. “Who can remain disciplined in how they play and block out the rest of it and just execute; so that’s what we’re looking for out of our guys … the emotion is going to be there, it always is, as I said to the guys, you have to channel it the right way.”
All that, plus both teams will be well-rested because of cancellations due to the weather Wednesday, sets the stage for what promises to be an intense battle.
“I think it’s going to be a great high school hockey game,” Budd said. “I’d like to think that it’s two very well coached teams with a bunch of good, skilled, hardworking players and I’ve said all along I think the two teams are in similar spots in terms of their development.”
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that it’s Darien vs. New Canaan.
“I’d expect a very close, well-played game,” Budd said. “It’s a rivalry game so of course the expectation is players on both teams are going to come ready to play hard. From our side, we’re certainly expecting a very fast-paced, physical, typical rivalry game between Darien and New Canaan and we certainly don’t expect the outcome to be similar to the first game. We think it’s going to be a very good game and a very close game.”