Looking to play for a fourth straight state title, the Darien girls hockey team had one more hill to climb before reaching the championship game. That hill proved to be worth the climb.
Behind a strong defensive effort, and two points apiece from Cate Droogan and Kelly Raymond, third-seeded Darien topped second-seeded West Haven/Sacred Heart Academy 4-0 in the CHSGHA girls semifinals at the Rinks at Shelton Wednesday evening.
Not only will Darien (17-3-1) get an opportunity to win its fourth consecutive state title, but the Blue Wave will get a chance to do so against FCIAC rival and top-seeded New Canaan, a 3-1 winner over Simsbury, Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. at the Bennett Rink in West Haven.
“We got out on them super fast,” Droogan said after finishing with a goal and an assist. “We won every battle .We were determined to win every battle and we did so. I thought we played very well tonight.”
Darien held a 31-14 shot advantage in the contest, and if not for the goaltending of WH/SHA’s Kyleen Crowe, the Westie Sharks (19-4) may have faced a bigger hole from which to climb.
“We played defensive,” WH/SHA coach Erin Blake said. “We knew they were tough. They had a 6-2 win against us last time we played them. We knew it was not going to be easy.”
While West Haven’s Taylor Nowak had the game’s first scoring opportunity which was turned aside with a pad save by Hallie Kreppein, it was the Blue Wave which produced better scoring opportunities, until finally beating Crowe with 1:30 left in the opening period.
Off a scramble in front, Raymond scored off an assist from Droogan to give Darien the only goal it would need in the contest.
“We were not going to let them get going,” Darien coach Jamie Tropsa said of the Westie Sharks. “They are a very good team and they have had a good season. We never wanted them to get going.”
While Darien held a 9-5 shot advantage in the opening period, it was the second period which turned the game around. The Blue Wave had 12 shots on goal and all seemed to be quality chances.
Crowe made a spectacular save on a shot by Kit Arrix 3:27 in, denied a backhander in front by Raymond five minutes later, and another by Lucie Edwards with a glove save less than a minute after.
Darien finally increased the lead to a pair of goals with 5:38 remaining in the middle period as Shea van den Broek knocked in a rebound, with Sarah Hearns and Ceci Stein gaining assists.
“We have a lot of depth,” Tropsa said. “We are able to run three or four lines out there. I give them a lot of credit. They have kids who work hard. We ran out three or four lines and six D (defense), and I think that allowed us to keep our legs fresh.”
After Kreppein denied Francesca Criscuolo with a great save in front with 1:31 left in the second, Darien put the game away with 10.8 seconds to go in the period.
Arrix kept playing until the whistle and stuffed a loose puck past Crowe following a WH/SHA turnover for a 3-0 advantage.
“This is amazing,” Droogan said of her team playing for its fourth straight state title. “Every year, we come in and we have a standard to live up to. It makes it so much better playing them (New Canaan). It is the first time we get to play them for the state championship. We are excited.”
With the game in hand, the only question was whether Kreppein (14 saves) would get the shutout and that was answered when the junior denied a point shot from Meghan Dupre with 7:20 to go, a hard shot in close by Jenna Hunt less than a minute later, and a shot by Jianna Cohrs in front with 6:12 to go.
“I thought we back-checked hard,” Tropsa said. “That was the plan going in.”
Darien put the final touches on the win when Droogan scored off an assist from Raymond with 2:06 left.
“I’m proud of this group and these seniors,” Blake said. “They are the first team to make it this far. We made four SCC championships, winning two. The seniors helped bring this from the ground up. I hate to see them go out this way, but we had a great year.”
Crowe finished with 27 saves in the loss for the Westie Sharks.