With all of the championship hardware the Darien girls ice hockey team has earned during the past eight seasons, it’s somewhat surprising that the word the Wave is using for motivation this winter is “redemption.”
But that’s what happens when you set the bar so high.
After winning three straight state championships from 2016 to 2018, Darien was the runner-up last year, falling to rival New Canaan 3-1 in the CHSGHA final at Bennett Rink.
The Blue Wave is now looking to make it five straight title game appearances and also return the state crown to Darien.
“That’s our goal and that’s what we’re looking for,” senior co-captain Kit Arrix said after the Wave topped Simsbury 3-1 on Tuesday. “There’s a lot of redemption there for us and all we can do right now is to work hard and continue to stay focused on the goal.”
With its latest victory, Darien improved to 9-2 and inched closer to the No. 1 spot in the state standings, trailing Simsbury (9-1-1) by a few points. Greenwich (8-2-1) and New Canaan (10-3-1) round out the top four.
For Darien, success starts with the defense, which has allowed just nine goals in 11 official state games. The Wave has six shutouts and has allowed one goal in two games — against New Canaan (a 1-0 loss) and Simsbury.
The depth on the blue line features senior co-captain Cate Droogan and junior Catherine Martin, along with sophomores Sarah Hearns and Carolyn Clark, and freshman Charlotte Moody.
“We’ve rolling five D right now, so it’s important to emphasize trusting the people you’re playing with,” Martin said. “It’s not just one person. Trusting everyone out there and trusting the goalie can translate into the offense. We trust everyone to do their job.”
One big change on the defense is at goalie, as Tropsa has started three young players: Sophomores Claire Haupt, who played well in the loss to New Canaan, and Ella Whitticom, who split two games with Greenwich and was in the net against Simsbury, and freshman Katherine Kahn.
“It’s been interesting because we haven’t done that in a while,” Tropsa said. “We’ve been going back and forth, giving them all big games and experience, so hopefully it pays off in the end.”
Up top, Darien has several scoring weapons, led by co-captains Colleen Cassidy, Caitlin Chan and Arrix, along with juniors Kate Bellissimo and Nelle Kniffin.
“We’re just working hard to get back to where we want to be,” Arrix said. “We’ve had a couple of games this season that just didn’t go our way, but we know that our work ethic can carry us. We just have to keep up with what were doing and keep scoring goals.”
Tropsa credited the four captains for their leadership.
“They’ve been fantastic,” he said. “We have a bunch of high-energy captains who are also skill kids, and they’ve been great leaders in every way, shape and form. We have a lot of young kids and the captains have been great working with them.”
The Wave is in the midst of a grueling week. In addition to the Simsbury game, they played to a 3-3 tie with Barrington (RI) on Sunday, will take a road trip to face Morristown-Beard (NJ) in a rescheduled game on Friday, and then square off with New Canaan at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, at the Darien Ice House.
“Practices are going to be light all week,” Tropsa said. “We’re trying to keep the tempo up and also try to relax at the same time. You can only take so much emotionally in one week. (Simsbury) was a big game emotionally, and New Canaan will be another one, obviously. We’ll see how everything goes. Hopefully, we’ll have something left in the tank for New Canaan on Saturday.”
There’s still quite a ways to go in the season, but it’s going to be a tall task for anyone to top the offensive performance delivered by Guilford’s Maddie Epke during the Connecticut Ice Girls High School Hockey Showcase last Friday.
Epke, a sophomore forward and three-sport star, racked up seven points with five goals and two assists as the Indians rallied from a three-goal deficit with 7:30 to go and topped West Haven/SHA 7-6 in overtime at Webster Bank Arena.
Epke’s second assist came on a goal by linemate Danielle Vickerman, who tied the game with 2:21 left in regulation. In overtime, Epke fired the puck through a screen during a power play, scoring her fifth goal and locking up the win.
West Haven/SHA led 5-1 in the second period and 6-3 in the third before Guilford began its comeback.
“In the second and third period, we really kicked on the gears,” Epke said. ‘We focused more on shooting on the net, because we were missing the net a lot. We focused on skating 100% effort every time we got out there.”
The victory pushed Guilford (6-3) up the state ranks and into ninth place, just a few points behind West Haven/SHA (10-2). The Indians have won three straight and five of six, and have a favorable schedule the rest of the way, with just two playoff teams among their final 10 opponents.
One of those games will be a grudge match on Feb. 21, when Guilford and West Haven/SHA meet again at Bennett Rink.
The Wilton girls ice hockey team was formed before the 2008-09 season and in the 12 years since, it didn’t have much success when taking on rival Ridgefield. The Tigers, who have been fairly consistent playoff contenders, had fallen to the Warriors just once.
This year, the tables have turned.
Behind a brilliant performance from junior goalie Erin McMorris, the Wilton/Norwalk/McMahon co-op topped Ridgefield/Danbury for the second time this season, 3-2, last Friday at the Winter Garden.
McMorris had 31 saves in the game, while freshmen Isabel DiNanno and Kaelin Burke, and senior Caitlyn Hocker all scored goals to lead the Warriors, who also defeated Ridgefield 7-3 on Dec. 27.
“Erin was fantastic,” Wilton coach Pete Maxfield said. “Where she started the season and where she is now, she’s a completely different player. I couldn’t be more pleased with how she’s playing.”
The victory wasn’t just for rivalry bragging rights, either. Wilton is 6-5-1 and has thrust itself into the playoff picture with a recent three-game winning streak. The Warriors are currently in 12th place in the state point standings, with 12 teams qualifying for the CHSGHA tournament.
Wilton also picked up a key win by beating Stamford/Westhill/Staples, 5-4 in OT, on Monday, knocking the SWS team into 13th place.
Wilton has seven games remaining, and has already faced FCIAC powers Darien, Greenwich and New Canaan, with the Fairfield co-op, a conference playoff qualifier the past two years, still to come.