DARIEN — The New Canaan boys ice hockey team and coach Pat Gore have reveled in the big picture by taking care of the small picture this season.

The Rams took another step forward Saturday afternoon by conquering archrival Darien 4-1 before a capacity crowd at Darien Ice House.

“The big picture every year is about capturing titles. But the key is the kids are focused on doing it one step at a time,” Gore said. “In my wildest dreams on Day 1, this type of start to the year was unexpected. But this group has a lot of belief.”

Saturday’s triumph gave New Canaan a sweep of the regular season series with Darien (NC won 5-2 on Dec. 27).

“We knew Darien would be passionate in a rivalry game. Darien is getting closer to the team they want to be,” Gore said. “We’ll take this win over a rival and be happy.”

The Rams are now 11-2 overall, 6-0 in the FCIAC and winners of five straight as well as eight of their last nine.

New Canaan put its imprint on the clash just 49 seconds in when Gunnar Granito scored off a George McMahon feed for 1-0.

After Darien’s Maxwell Romeyn forged a 1-1 tie with 3:05 left, Granito struck again on a steal and a breakaway with 17.1 seconds left for a 2-1 New Canaan edge.

“I think Gunnar put too much pressure on himself last season as a freshman,” Gore said. “He’s working hard but within himself and he’s getting rewarded for it now as a sophomore.”

Although New Canaan drew five penalties in the second, the Rams scored the lone goal of the period. McMahon, a senior quad-captain, put home a short-handed rebound with 2:59 left for 3-1.

“We’re at the time of the season where 5-on-5 defenses are very effective,” said Darien coach Mac Budd. “So special teams are so key. We’re not getting goals on our powerplay (0-for-6 Saturday). We didn’t convert when we had a 5-on-3 situation either.”

New Canaan settled the issue with 6:21 to go when senior quad-captain Harry Gelnow put home a rebound for 4-1.

“Our depth is a key to our success. Rolling three or four forward lines is big,” Gore said. “Depth allowed us to be more aggressive on the forecheck. Darien got tired. The third and fourth goals were key. Depth also helped kill off all those penalties.”

Senior goalie Peter Windas (22 saves) gave New Canaan plenty of confidence.

“Peter was strong during the penalties. And we need a strong goalie to play our style,” Gore said. “Peter bails out a lot of our mistakes. We know Peter is ready if there’s a turnover.”

For Darien, senior goalie Brendan Bumgardner registered 26 saves. The Blue Wave (5-8, 4-3) had won four of five contests before falling to the FCIAC’s strongest clubs (Ridgefield, New Canaan).

“I know the scoreboard matters, but our kids have improved tremendously through hard work,” Budd said. “You can’t make mistakes against teams like Ridgefield and New Canaan. NC made us pay today.

“The good news to me is we’re playing our best hockey at the best time of the year. The schedule (seven games left in regular season) is tough but we can keep surprising people,” Budd continued. “We need to play with a degree of desperation now. And we have to do more in the tough areas of the ice. We need to put home some rebounds.”

It is a short victory lap for New Canaan. The Rams host Ridgefield (12-1, 6-0 entering play Saturday) Tuesday at 7:10 at Darien Ice House. Ridgefield won 4-2 in a non-league matchup with NC back on Dec. 30, 2016 at Winter Garden.

“I like it better this way,” Gore said. “In the playoffs, games are every other day. So playing Darien and Ridgefield back-to-back is good. And playoff seeding makes every game now important. We know we still have work to do.”



NEW CANAAN 2 1 1—4

DARIEN 0 0 0—0

Records: New Canaan 11-2, 6-0 FCIAC. Darien 5-8, 4-3 FCIAC.

Goals: NC—Gunnar Granito 2, George McMahon, Harry Gelnaw. D—Maxwell Romeyn. Assists: NC—McMahon, Anton Adding, Tyler Hill. D—Arden Cohen. Goalies: NC—Peter Windas (22 saves); D—Brendan Bumgardner (26 saves).

Highlights: NC—New Canaan sweeps season series (2-0) with Darien.