The Darien boys ice hockey team logged well over 300 miles of travel time and nearly 100 minutes of high-octane action against two of Rhode Island’s best programs this weekend.
While the end result was a pair of one-goal losses for the Blue Wave, including one in overtime, the experience was worth every minute.
“All in all it was a fantastic weekend,” Darien coach Mac Budd said. “It was a great opportunity to get the team together and a great opportunity to play two of the best teams in this area. We were grateful to have the opportunity to go up and participate in a weekend like that and it will certainly help us as a team going forward.”
The Wave (8-4), ranked No. 2 in the latest GameTimeCT poll, left Saturday morning for its first game in Providence that afternoon, and the time spent together on the road and between the two games was a great bonding experience.
“We’ve found that scheduling a few out-of-state teams really fires up the kids,” Budd said. “They get excited for these games, and it also helps with the team bonding. You’re spending a lot of times together in close quarters, and it helps from a lot of perspectives.”
Both games were thrillers against the top two teams in the latest HNIB Rhode Island Top 10 Poll: No. 1 La Salle, which is 16-0, and No. 2 Bishop Hendricken, which is 8-8-1 but is 5-1-1 in its last seven.
Bishop Hendricken held a 3-0 lead against Darien early in the second period of Saturday’s game at Schneider Arena in Providence, but the Wave responded with goals from Bennett McDermott and Teddy Dyer to make it 3-2 after two periods. The Wave had a 30-19 shots advantage, but couldn’t get the equalizer in the third.
On Saturday in Smithfield, Luke Johnston scored a first-period goal for the Wave and McDermott made it 2-0 in the second with assists from Jamison Moore and Johnston. La Salle closed the gap to 2-1 after two, and tied the game with 11:03 remaining in regulation.
The teams were even until late in overtime, when La Salle scored the game-winner during a 5-on-3 with 11 seconds remaining.
It was a case of deja vu for the Wave, who last year lost to La Salle, 3-2 with 10 seconds left in OT.
“Battling off a 5-on-3 with 45 seconds left, it was certainly very much on my mind that this thing could end in a very similar fashion to the way it did last year,” Budd said. “Sure enough, it was one second off where we finished last year. It’s tough to lose like that under those circumstances, but the more important thing is it was a great hockey game with two great teams.”
The weekend games came together with the help of Greenwich coach Chris Rurak, who went to college with Mike Soscia, the new coach at Bishop Hendricken. Darien already had a relationship with La Salle, having played the Rams the past two seasons, and was happy to add Bishop Hendricken to the schedule.
Greenwich went 0-1-1, falling to LaSalle 2-0 and then tying Bishop Hendricken 2-2.
The series will continue next winter with the two Rhode Island teams coming to Fairfield County.
Playing elite out-of-state competition is becoming more commonplace for Connecticut schools, as they follow the blueprint for success established by Fairfield Prep.
The Jesuits’ schedule includes an annual trip to the prestigious Holiday Tournament at Mount Saint Charles Academy in Rhode Island, and this weekend they’ll play in a tournament at the Olympia Ice Center in Springfield, Mass., taking on Bishop Hendricken in Saturday’s opener.
Notre Dame-West Haven, which has five games against out-of-state teams this season, also played in the Holiday tournament at Mount Saint Charles, and coach Larry Vieira called the experience “humbling” during an Inside the Box podcast on GameTimeCT.
“It makes you realize there are much better coaches and much better teams and much better players that are out there,” Vieira said. “For myself, I want to strive to become a better coach, but most importantly, I want my kids to realize how good the competition is out there, and let them get better.”
Vieira also credited Fairfield Prep for the scheduling model.
“I’m really taking a page from Fairfield Prep,” Vieira said. “They played seven against top-ranked teams and look at their success. I’m copying what they do. I’m not reinventing the wheel.”
Unbeaten La Salle, which has already beaten Ridgefield, Greenwich and Darien this season, will host Xavier on Feb. 15.
The Blue Wave, meanwhile, will turn its attention to a couple of key in-state games, as they play No. 1 Fairfield Prep at the Wonderland of Ice on Wednesday, and No. 4 New Canaan (10-1-1) on Saturday at the Darien Ice House.
Coming off the weekend road trip, Budd is happy with where his team stands.
“I like the way that we’re playing,” Budd said. “With a month left in the regular season and some big games coming up, we’re playing well. We’re moving the puck well, we have good depth, every line seems to be contributing and we have a bunch of D pairs that are playing well. So I’m happy. We’re playing good hockey.”