DARIEN — It’s never easy when you hold the No. 1 ranking.
Everyone circles your game on their calendar. Everyone is ready to hit you with their best shot.
But this is the burden that the Darien boys ice hockey team is happy to carry as the state’s No. 1 ranked squad.
Westhill-Stamford Co-op gave the Blue Wave all it could handle Wednesday night at the Darien Ice House.
But true to its standard, Darien found a way to finally conquer the Vikings, 5-4 in overtime, rallying from a 3-0 deficit.
“We beat a very good team tonight. Westhill-Stamford will continue to do well going forward,” Darien’s coach Mac Budd said. “They are a team with so much skill. And this season they also have depth. Their top-end talent is excellent.”
— CT HS Hockey (@CTHSHockey) January 23, 2020
Westhill-Stamford (6-2-1, 0-2 FCIAC) was so good that breakout goals by Jason Marchese, Tucker Healy and Gavin Dolan gave the Vikings a 3-0 edge after one period.
“Westhill-Stamford’s speed and skill created those goals. We had to make an adjustment defensively,” Budd said. “Offensively, we had to stick to our plan of puck possession to produce chances.”
The only position Westhill-Stamford is young is in net. It was freshman goalie Eric Osterhus’ night after sophomore Jared Maloney had faced three-time defending FCIAC champ Ridgefield last week.
The tall, rangy Osterhus stayed busy (36 saves) as Darien’s top line of senior tri-captain Bennett McDermott, junior Jamison Moore and senior Matt Fiorita relentlessly chipped away at the Vikings’ lead.
McDermott tallied twice from the slot area for 3-2 midway through the second period. Westhill-Stamford’s Hunter Gilchrist (on the powerplay) and Darien’s Matt Sharp traded goals late in the period for 4-3 Vikings.
This Darien squad — which already has wins over Fairfield Prep, ND-West Haven, Xavier and Greenwich in its first eight games — kept buzzing in the third period.
It was Danny Lowe who produced the 4-4 deadlock with 7:40 remaining. Westhill-Stamford killed off a late penalty as Osterhus made four saves to force an eight-minute overtime. Darien sophomore goalie Chris Schofield finished with 12 saves.
With midterm exams looming large this week, Darien (6-2, 2-1 FCIAC) went for the fast finish. Jamison Moore won a puck battle along the boards and found McDermott again in the slot. The bang-bang play completed McDermott’s hat trick and the Blue Wave’s journey as No. 1 marched on.
“McDermott is so great. That first line works so hard. Moore really worked the wall to make that play happen,” Budd said. “They played a tough and gritty game. The Westhill-Stamford goalie (Osterhus) moves well. The way we came back says a lot about our commitment and our leadership.”
The win kept Darien in the Top Five in the Division I state ranking. Westhill-Stamford — after back-to-back close losses to Div. I powers Ridgefield and Darien — sit at No. 8 in the Division II rankings.
“We played well and skated with Darien the whole night,” said Westhill-Stamford coach John Santagata. “We had a few lapses but we got the contest to overtime. But in OT, anything can happen.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Darien forward and tri-captain Bennett McDermott: The senior had the hat trick including the game-winning goal just 38 seconds into overtime.
“We want to keep getting better. We have to bring it every contest as opponents are so fired up to play us. This will be a fun season for high school boys hockey fans across the state. There are probably eight teams who can compete for the Division I state title. And there are five or six schools in the mix for the FCIAC Championship.” — Darien coach Mac Budd