The wide smiles on the faces of the Darien girls ice hockey players after they won their latest championship delivered a clear message: This one was special.
Darien scored two early goals and then held off a couple of comeback attempts to beat rival New Canaan, 4-2, for the FCIAC championship Saturday at the Darien Ice House.
Seeing the Blue Wave in the winner’s circle was not unusual — Darien won three straight state titles from 2016 to 2018 — but the FCIAC crown had always seemed to be just out of reach.
“This is really amazing,” Kit Arrix, one of five Wave seniors and a co-captain, said. “All four years, we’ve come up short and this year, the team dynamic has been really incredible. I’m so, so happy that we got it done.”
It was Darien’s sixth overall conference championship, but its first since 2016. What followed was a loss to Greenwich in the 2017 final, and then back-to-back semifinal defeats against New Canaan in 2018, and Greenwich in 2019.
This year, the Wave (16-2-1) was sitting with a respectable 6-2-1 record through nine games, but has since been nearly untouchable, going 10-0-1 in the last 11 contests with the one tie coming to Barrington (RI).
Along the way, Darien has beaten New Canaan twice, Greenwich once, and handed No. 1 Simsbury its only loss of the season, 3-1, on Jan. 28. It’s also 10-2 against state tournament qualifiers.
Arrix made it clear that the Wave was celebrating its FCIAC win, but was also ready to turn its attention to regaining the state title.
“This feels great, but we will be back to work on Monday,” Arrix said. “We’ve got a big prize to take care of. So the mindset is still the same. This next week we’ll be working hard and figuring out how to get better. The state tournament is up next and we’ll be ready.”
Darien, which is the No. 2 seed in the CHSGHA tournament, had a first-round bye, allowing for a bit of a break between games, and will host the East Catholic/Glastonbury/South Windsor (ETB) co-op at 5 p.m., Saturday at the Darien Ice House. It’s part of a doubleheader, with No. 5 Suffield co-op facing No. 4 New Canaan in the second game at 6:40 p.m..
Darien defeated ETB, 3-1, on Feb. 8 in Newington.
It’ll be the last time through for the Wave’s five seniors — Arrix, Cate Droogan, Caitlin Chan, Colleen Cassidy and Grace Carlo — who now have added an FCIAC championship to their many wins.
“I’m very happy for the seniors,” Darien coach Jamie Tropsa said. “They lost as freshmen and then they haven’t been here (in the FCIAC final) for the past two years. This was something they really wanted and it’s nice for them to finally win this.”
Tropsa also didn’t hesitate in saying he expects another match-up with New Canaan down the line.
“Overall, I’m very happy for the girls. New Canaan’s got a great team and I think we’re going to see them again,” the coach said.
A FIRST FOR GUILFORD
Heading into the postseason, there was no team hotter than Guilford, which has been led by its spectacular sophomore forward Maddie Epke.
So far in the playoffs Epke and the Indians haven’t missed a beat.
Guilford captured its first-ever SCC championship by beating top-seeded Amity/North Haven/Cheshire, 4-2, in the league final Saturday at Bennett Rink.
Epke, the SCC Player of the Year, scored 50 goals during the regular season and had a hat trick in the conference final.
“We had no idea it would end up like this,” Epke said after the championship. “We just wanted to go farther than we did last year. To get this far for Guilford hockey and all girls sports is amazing.”
Epke’s performance led the offense and the play of goalie Julia McDonald sealed the deal. McDonald racked up 36 saves and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the final.
Guilford’s hot streak continued on Tuesday as it upended the Amity Blades for the second time in four days, 5-3, in the first round of the CHSGHA tournament.
That sets up a quarterfinal showdown with the state’s No. 1 team, Simsbury (18-1-2), the CCC champion and a state semifinalist last year. The teams will clash at 7:20 p.m., Saturday, at the International Skating Center in Simsbury.
The first day of the state tournament went to the chalk, as the higher seeds – No. 5 Suffield co-op, No. 6 Avon co-op, and No. 7 ETB all picked up wins on Monday.
On day two, No. 9 Guilford toppled the No. 8 Amity Blades, 5-3, to advance to the quarterfinals.
ETB’s game was perhaps the biggest eye-opener, not in that ETB won, but in the fact that it shut down the high-powered West Haven/SHA offense for a 1-0 victory at the Newington Ice Arena. All-State goalie Caitlyn Caldon collected 34 saves, and Mary McKiernan scored in the third period for the game’s only goal.
Suffield received a hat trick from Michaela Birmingham in its 4-0 win over Notre Dame-Fairfield at the Enfield Twin Rinks. Kylie Downs scored the Wildcats’ other goal. Bethany Karp, the All-State goalie for NDFF, racked up 43 saves in her final game of the season.
The Avon co-op had two goals an assist from Jordan Hopping, and single tallies from Mackenzie Gallinoto, Sarah Murphy and Emily Moskal in a 5-2 win over the Fairfield co-op.