Since a season-opening loss to Hamden, top-ranked Darien has enjoyed a 14-game unbeaten streak (13-0-1), including posting a 6-0-1 record against teams in the Register Top 10 poll.
Earlier in the season, we kept anticipating the Blue Wave’s next big test, whether it be against No. 5 Ridgefield, or No. 4 New Canaan, or No. 10 West Haven or No. 2 Fairfield Prep. But Darien is no longer being tested. Been there, done that.
Instead of asking if the Blue Wave can survive their next test, the big question now is whether Darien can be beaten.
Darien, which has two regular-season games remaining against Top 10 teams, travels to Bennett Rink to face off with No. 3 Notre Dame-West Haven on Monday at 4 p.m. The Blue Wave have defeated the Green Knights twice already this season — 4-3 in a preseason scrimmage and 1-0 on Jan. 27.
Darien also has a tough game with No. 6 Notre Dame-Fairfield to close out the regular season on Feb. 22 at a high-profile venue, facing the Lancers for the first time this season at Webster Bank Arena (1 p.m.) in Bridgeport.
Notre Dame-West Haven captain and forward Matt Dumas has a solid perspective on what makes Darien tick.
“Actually, you have to give a lot of the credit to the Darien coaching staff,” Dumas said. “In the preseason, (Darien coach) Chris Gerwig and his staff prepared their players for a long, tough season and they responded. They come out every game and work hard. They have a great defense, a great goalie (Michael Colon) and very good forwards. What they do is they outwork teams. If they fall behind, they don’t panic and don’t change their game plan. They’re patient and keep coming at you.
“Oh yeah, our guys are looking forward to the rematch. It should be fun.”
With Darien, Prep, the Notre Dames and New Canaan having talent and depth front to back — and throw in East Haven and its high-scoring first line — the Division I state tournament will be an exciting one. But like most coaches, Gerwig says he never looks ahead. His focus is on St. Joseph tonight and then Stamford on Saturday before the rematch with ND.
Gerwig understands the secret behind being successful in the postseason.
“We’re playing a tough schedule, because that’s what you need to do to be prepared for the postseason,” Gerwig said recently. “We’re locked in to an FCIAC schedule, but in order to improve and develop you need to play top well-coached teams outside our league like Prep, the Notre Dames and West Haven.
“I want to play a tough schedule, even a tougher schedule than this season. Like Prep and some of the other Connecticut teams, I hope to start scheduling some out-of-state games against top teams from Rhode Island and Massachusetts.”
Hand Getting Healthy And Clicking
After a tough 3-5 start, Hand evened its record at 7-7. Despite a 3-1 setback to Trinity Catholic on Monday that dropped Hand back under .500, first-year coach Ken Mitchell believes the Tigers are headed in the right direction.
“We had a few key injuries to upperclassmen, and playing within a system was new for most of the team,” Mitchell said. “But over time the players have begun to grasp what we are preaching. To be honest, the team is not performing the way I had hoped at this point of the season. That has to fall on myself and my staff.
“But after a tough stretch of games, we have been heading in the right direction.”
Mitchell said forward Ben Solin has been the team’s best offensive option, with forward Dan Braumann being “a nice complement” to Solin.
“(Senior captain) Dan Healey has been a workhorse on D for us and our goalie, Chase Briggs, has done what we need to be successful,” Mitchell said. “We just haven’t been giving Chase support. Our freshman center, Chase Freiman, has developed nicely and continues to develop. We have a sophomore center (Luke Brown) who has provided solid work at both ends of the rink.”
Sophomore defenseman Jeff Rider is another underclassman who has contributed and continues to develop.
“A playoff berth is at the forefront, but a nice run deep into March (in the Division II tournament) is what we strive for,” Mitchell said. “With our injured players returning and the younger players forced into action, we have some pieces in place to be successful.”
Dan Nowak can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Dan on Twitter @NHRDanNowak.