GREENWICH — One minute and 47 seconds felt like an eternity for Griffin Deane and the New Canaan boys ice hockey team.
The Rams’ once three-goal lead had been whittled down to one as rival Darien mounted a wild third-period comeback bid, with pressure continuing into the final minute.
This was, however, New Canaan’s night as the Rams, led by freshman goalie Beau Johnson, held on for a 4-3 victory over the Blue Wave and captured their first FCIAC championship since 2014 Saturday at Hamill Rink in Greenwich.
So even if time seemed to slow down in the closing moments, it was well worth the wait for the Rams.
“The last few minutes felt like they were going on for five hours,” Deane said. “It was the longest couple of minutes in my life. We were doing everything to block shots and get the puck out, all that stuff. When it was finally going off three, two, one, it was the biggest relief of my life.”
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The victory came as somewhat of a surprise, as Darien, the No. 1 team in the GameTimeCT Top 10 poll, had won the regular-season meeting between the rivals in a rout, 10-2, on Feb. 8. No. 3 New Canaan (19-2-1) regained its footing quickly after that game, and has won eight straight games since the loss.
“Their mentality changed after that game,” New Canaan coach Clark Jones said. “They realized what it takes to win against an unbelievable team, and they’re finding ways to win now. It got a little scary at the end there, but kids were selling out; they were doing everything they had to do to get the win.”
For Darien (18-5), the loss snapped a 10-game winning streak, but the late rally gave the Wave something positive to carry into the state tournament.
“I’m really proud of the way they competed,” Darien coach Mac Budd said. “It would have been very easy with five minutes left, for them to just roll over, but they competed. We battled really hard in the second and third periods and we just came up a little short.”
Johnson was named the game’s MVP after collecting 34 saves and coming up with several eye-popping stops. Like the Rams in general, the loss to Darien in early February was Johnson’s worst of the season, but he turned it around in the final.
“Beau, again, was outstanding for us,” Jones said. “When we had breakdowns, and we had a few, especially in the second period, Beau was there time and time again. He’s been really sharp since that Darien game, which tells a lot about him as a freshman goaltender.”
New Canaan’s highlights also included a pair of short-handed goals from Deane, the second of which came less than two minutes after the Wave scored their first goal.
“I was trying to work as hard as I could to get the puck to the net, and we got the bounces we needed and capitalized on the bounces,” Deane said. “Those were big goals and (Justin Wietfeldt’s) goal was big because it set the tone for the game and got our momentum going.”
The Rams soared at the start of the game, with Wietfeldt putting a rebound through the five-hole just 43 seconds after the opening drop.
At the 6:45 mark, the Rams’ early pressure paid off again, as Nick Megdanis scored with an assist from Wietfeldt to make it 2-0.
“Coming out strong was the big thing we needed,” Wietfeldt said. “We needed to show them that we came to play, we’re here and we’re better. With my first goal and everyone playing great in that first period, it really showed that we came to work.”
During a power play early in the second frame, Darien turned the puck over in the zone and Deane was able to break away up the right side. His shot glanced off goalie Chris Schofield (20 saves) and into the net for a 3-0 lead.
The Wave began to turn the momentum after that, and had a frenetic series midway through the second period, but Johnson came up with several huge saves to keep the lead at three.
Darien’s persistence finally paid off when Luke Johnston found the net with 5:14 remaining in the second frame, but Deane’s second goal quickly boosted the lead back to three at 4-1.
The third period was scoreless until there were under three minutes remaining.
Jack Massey scored with an assist from Max Sharp during a power play to make it 4-2 with 2:43 remaining, and Sam Erickson made it a one-goal game with an assist from McDermott with 1:47 on the clock.
The Wave had several shots in the final moments, but New Canaan held on for the title.
“Hats off to New Canaan,” Budd said. “They played a helluva game. They got off to a good start, we got down 2-0 and then we were fighting our way back the whole game. The best player on the ice tonight was their goalie, The momentum turned in the second and third periods and he was great.”
New Canaan’s FCIAC championship was the 19th in program history, and they are the league’s all-time leader. Greenwich is second with 11 FCIAC titles, and Darien and Ridgefielld are tied with eight apiece.
New Canaan’s last FCIAC championship in 2014 also came against Darien, and was the final title for coach Bo Hickey, who stepped down from the program after that season.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Beau Johnson, New Canaan. The Rams’ freshman goalie was a star in the final, as he racked up 34 saves and was named the MVP.
“I’ve been on the team for three years and last year we lost first round FCIACs, and same thing the year before that, so it feels great to get this. Everyone doubted us in the beginning, saying that we had an easier schedule and we played easier teams, but this is proof that we’re one of the best teams in the state.” — New Canaan senior co-captain Justin Wietfeldt.