STAMFORD — Defending state champion Darien knew it would have a target on its back all year.

That target grows even more as state tournament play started Wednesday and the Blue Wave’s first step at repeating was a showdown with bitter rival New Canaan.

In a battle that in no way reflected the seeding of the teams, Darien at No. 3 and New Canaan 14, the Blue Wave scored midway through the third to take the opening round of the Division I boys hockey tournament 3-2 at Terry Conners Rink in Stamford.

“Every team brings their best, it’s a long season, it’s a hard season, but this is where it pays off,” first-year Darien coach Mac Budd said. “We’re used to teams playing with a tough intensity, we’re used to teams playing with a go for broke attitude so it’s not that much different than what we’ve seen day in and day out.”

The road gets no easier for Darien as it will have to play No. 11 St. Joseph Saturday, with a chance to avenge its FCIAC semifinal loss from a week ago.

Early in Wednesday’s contest the teams were content to feel each other out, not getting many looks at the net and ending the first scoreless.

That would change quickly in the second as just over a minute in Owen Collins tallied from the right circle off a pretty feed from Max DeBeradinis to give Darien a 1-0 advantage.

A wicked slap shot off the stick of Drew Morris tied it for New Canaan on a power play midway through the period. The Rams would have the man-advantage three times in the second, but Darien was able to kill off the final two.

The eventful second was bookended when DeBeradinis once again found his man, this time Herbie Hazelton on the doorstep, where he finished to put Darien back on top 2-1.

New Canaan would again tie the game early in the third when freshman Gunnar Granito banged in a rebound, but four minutes later Max Romeyn notched the game winner on power play.

“I knew it would be a tough,” Budd said. “Would I have liked a nice 6-1 game? Of course I would, but those aren’t playoff games, no one’s going to give it to you, it doesn’t matter what the matchup is it’s going to be very hard to overwhelm another team. I was very happy with our battle, we came ready to battle today and that’s what we needed so we did a good job.”

After a slow start to the season New Canaan played its way into the FCIAC tournament as well as the state playoffs, proving Wednesday that it was much better than the No. 14 next to its name would indicate.

“It was an intense playoff game, effort was there, maybe one bounce short,” Rams coach Pat Gore said. “The last two times we played Darien it’s been right down to the wire, it’s been third period goals that have beaten us and it should prove to our kids whether they’re graduating or coming back we’re pretty darn close.”

aparelli@bcnnew.com @reportedbytheAP

DARIEN 3, NEW CANAAN 2

NEW CANAAN 0 1 1—2

DARIEN 0 2 1—3

Goals: NC—Drew Morris, Gunnar Granito; D—Owen Collins, Herbie Hazelton, Max Romeyn. Assists: NC—Tyler Ferraro 2; D—Max DeBeradinis 2, Sam Knowlton. Goalies: NC—Peter Windas (17 saves); D—David Voigt 11. Shots: NC—13; D—20.