DARIEN -- Had you slipped inside the Darien Ice Rink on the early side of 8 p.m. last Tuesday night, your eyes would've told you that the New Canaan boys hockey team (10-3-1) had just won the state title.
Spilling over their bench as the final horn sounded, the Rams owned every reason to exuberantly celebrate a 3-2 victory over Notre Dame-West Haven (10-3-1). Following 45 minutes of bruising, back-and-forth hockey, they not only had topped one of best teams in Connecticut, but extended their unbeaten streak to nine games.
Junior Davis Bruch put home the game-winning goal with less than 10 minutes left, and senior captain John O'Rourke and junior Patrick Hompe each collected two points. Senior goalie MacLean Wright recorded four saves over the game's final 91 seconds against the Green Knight powerplay to secure the victory.
"It's awesome to have a guy like that in net," said junior Ram John McMahon. "Mac's had a hell of season so far. We just hope he can continue it, and we can play well in front of him."
Wright and his defensemen were hardly put to work over the game's opening minutes, when the Rams fiercely dominated puck possession. Skating both around and through Notre Dame-West Haven, they peppered opposing goalie Wade Conlan with shots and his teammates with crushing hits. The Green Knights responded with big blows of their own and were finally let out of their own zone via a charge call against New Canaan's James Franzis at the 8:40 mark in the first period.
Moments afterward on the powerplay, Green Knight junior Kyle Lynch tucked in a rebound on Wright's stick-side for the game's first score. It was only the eighth goal Wright had allowed in his last eight games, all Ram wins or ties. Senior Matthew Dumas, who finished with a team-high two points, picked up an assist for his hard slapshot that set the table for Lynch.
Two minutes later, another whistle blew against New Canaan. This time the offender was O'Rourke, who stood guilty of a trip. However, largely thanks to a pair of McMahon clears, Notre Dame-West Haven failed to convert with the man-advantage, and the period ended soon thereafter.
The physical play, on the other hand, was just beginning. Over the course of the second period, multiple near-skirmishes were broken up, and five penalties were handed out during a span of four and a half minutes.
"Anytime you play a team from the up north that's how they play," Bruch said. "It's not a big deal. We've just got to match their intensity and not let them get in our heads."
"You know what you're going to see every time you play them," added New Canaan coach Bo Hickey. "They're a physical, gritty bunch of guys."
Amidst the thrown punches and blown whistles were two early Ram goals and a second from the Green Knights. Less than three minutes into the period, O'Rourke found the back of the net, while flying out of a much more organized New Canaan attack. Hompe followed suit with a fluttering, backhanded shot that initially appeared to be of no threat, yet somehow snuck by Conlan.
Then, the penalties began to rack up.
Now halfway through the contest, McMahon and Notre Dame-West Haven's Christian Lupoli were simultaneously sent to the sin bin for a cross-check and boarding call, respectively. Upon their returns, Lynch was quickly handed a slashing penalty following a pile up in front of the Ram net at the 10:39 mark. Less than one minute afterward, Casey Hoban joined him for roughing, which set up a five-on-three opportunity for New Canaan.
The Rams' break did not last long; in fact just 11 seconds, when Franzis again skated off to the box because of a slash. His exit trimmed the home team's advantage to four-on-three, before Lynch entered back on the ice and play moved to four-on-four. It was at this point that Dumas made New Canaan pay with a goal from in close that once again came off of a rebound. The teams remained tied at two heading into the second intermission.
The final period started rather uneventfully, highlighted only by a stellar Wright save of the first real Notre Dame-West Haven scoring opportunity. Alarmed by the strong Green Knight attack, the Rams struck back quickly. Seconds under the 10-minute mark, Stanton and Hompe combined to set up Bruch on the doorstep for the easy gamewinner.
From there, Ram defensemen Steve Mettler and Max Begoon each stepped in with spectacular individual plays to help shut the door. Notre Dame-West Haven's Joseph Anasaldo did strike the post once, but that was as close as the Green Knights would come. Wright finished with 25 saves on the night.
"Mac's putting it together when it counts," Hickey said. "He's come a long way from not playing for a year and a half, two years. He works hard in practice, he's one of the first ones here and he's always one of the first ones on the ice."
New Canaan outshot Notre Dame-West Haven 30-27. The Rams have now scored a total of 38 goals during their nine-game undefeated streak.
Lynch was ejected from the game with 8.6 seconds remaining with a five-minute major for fighting.
Notre Dame-West Haven's three losses have all come at the hands of either New Canaan or Darien.