— Michael Fornabaio (@fornabaioctp) February 25, 2020
WEST HAVEN — The No. 1 boys hockey team in the state was short-handed, but it still played like the No. 1 team in the state.
Missing several regulars, Darien came back from an early deficit to beat No. 4 Notre Dame-West Haven 4-2 Monday night at Bennett Rink. The teams’ thoughts, though, were with Notre Dame junior defenseman Ryan Cannon, injured on a hit into the boards late in the first period.
“That was one of the grittier performances I’ve seen from one of our teams in a long time,” Darien coach Mac Budd said. “Of course it’s hard to be happy when you see an injury like that.”
Cannon was injured with 1:13 left in the first period on a hit by Darien forward Alek Garabet. Cannon was taken from the ice on a stretcher.
On a replay provided by WTNH-TV, Cannon carried the puck behind the net into the right corner and spun to reverse it. Garabet came in hard, driving him into the boards. Cannon slumped backward and appeared to be knocked out.
Garabet received a major for a check from behind. The teams went to their dressing rooms for an early intermission after Cannon was treated.
“He was moving his hands. He was moving his feet. That’s the most important thing, obviously, is his health,” Notre Dame coach Larry Vieira said.
“All indications are he’s OK. It was a vicious hit. Our kids responded and played disciplined. Their kids responded and played disciplined. It’s a credit to both programs and both coaching staffs that it didn’t turn into a bloodbath.”
Bennett McDermott’s two second-period goals put the short-handed Blue Wave up for good, and goals by James Conway and freshman defenseman Mathison Hole each extended the lead to two goals in the third.
Teddy DeBeradinis made 30 saves in the win, including a stop on a Notre Dame power-play chance in the last minute to preserve the two-goal lead.
Notre Dame-West Haven (14-6) had already clinched the top seed in the upcoming CIAC Division I tournament. Its next game is the SCC/SWC Division I championship game on March 6 against No. 2 Fairfield Prep, the team that defeated the Green Knights in the state title game last year.
Vieira didn’t like his team’s compete level, nor its work ethic, against the Blue Wave, which beat Notre Dame 5-2 earlier in the year.
“Game No. 20, I’m a little disappointed with that,” he said. “We lost to two Connecticut teams: (twice to No. 2 Fairfield) Prep and Darien. We’ve got to get over that hump, or it’s going to be a short playoff run.”
Darien (15-4) finishes its regular season Wednesday night against Trumbull in Shelton. A win in that game puts the Blue Wave in a three-way tie for first place in the FCIAC. They’d then have a one-in-three chance of having to play a league quarterfinal game Saturday, since the tie will be broken by lot. If they lose to Trumbull, they’ll definitely play that Saturday quarter.
This win clinched no worse than the fourth seed in the state tournament.
“We have a variety of things going on. We certainly were missing quite a few guys tonight,” Budd said. “But the other guys rallied. It’s funny how that happens. When things like that happen and there’s a little bit of adversity, the team can go two ways. Certainly tonight, they really rose to the occasion.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Freshman defenseman Mathison Hole was one of several players who stepped up for Darien. He had a third-period goal and a second-period assist, both on shots from the point off a faceoff.
“As a defenseman, just hold the blue line and shoot. I thought all our defensemen did a very good job of that,” Hole said.
“I thought the entire defense, our forwards, everyone, especially DiBo in net, everyone had to step up and play a different role than they were used to.”
The forward line of Charlie Callery, Tauson Pfeifle and Patrick Thurlow were among those thrust into bigger roles for Darien.
“On the road, we can’t match up, so sometimes those guys were out against their first line, and they did a fantastic job,” Budd said.
Hole and Grafton Ely stepped up on defense to join regulars Jack Massey, Luke Johnston and Ryan Spengler.
“This was some unexpected adversity with all the sicknesses and stuff. We’ve just got to battle through it and play as a team.” — Hole