Darien follows game plan, blanks Fairfield Prep 1-0
BRIDGEPORT -- The Fairfield Prep ice hockey team went all of last season without losing against in-state competition.
It's been even longer -- going all the way back to 1999 -- since the Jesuits dropped a game against a team from the FCIAC.
It took a determined and veteran-laden Darien team just three periods of solid defensive hockey to break both streaks.
Senior Robbie Juterbock scored the only goal of the game off a feed from senior captain Tommy Watters with 6:41 left in the second period and the Blue Wave went to work making the lead stand up, holding on for a 1-0 victory Saturday at the Wonderland of Ice.
With a loaded roster that includes 11 seniors and six juniors, Darien (1-1 overall) knew it wasn't going to be able to skate with the speedy Jesuits in an offensive-style game. But the Blue Wave was determined to outwork Fairfield Prep (1-1) by grinding it out on defense.
That's exactly what Darien did, slowing the Jesuits down with a trap-style scheme in the neutral zone while making every effort to stand Fairfield Prep up at the blue line. The Blue Wave gave up a little offensively, mustering just 13 shots in the game. But they also did the job they went to do, limiting the Jesuits to just 18 shots on winning goalie Michael Colon.
"We knew we were going to have to execute a perfect game plan to beat one of the premier programs year in and year out," Darien head coach Chris Gerwig said. "For us to do that . . . the guys really bought into it. We had a great practice (Friday) and we really carried it onto the ice. I've always said championship teams are built on practice if you can work hard and carry it onto the ice, and today I think we did that."
Through two games this season, Fairfield Prep has been missing the type of explosive offensive skill it displayed last year behind center David White, who led the Jesuits to a 23-1 record and the program's eighth state title over the last 13 years.
With close to 10 new additions to the lineup, and with a handful of returning starters filling new roles, Fairfield Prep head coach Matt Sather described his team in a manner unfamiliar for the Jesuits.
"I just don't think we're very good right now," said Sather, whose team opened the season with a 3-2 win against two-time defending FCIAC champion Ridgefield. "We're having a hard time with some fundamental skills. We have a lot of work to do as a team. We're not passing the puck very well. We just have to keep working."
Sather did give credit where credit was due: to Darien.
"They're a senior-laden group. They play real well together," Sather said. "They're very well-coached and they did a nice job. We have to go back to work and try to get to their level."
The Blue Wave was extra-focused on taking down the Jesuits after suffering from a case of over-confidence before suffering a 4-2 setback to Hamden.
"Losing to Hamden was a wakeup call for us," Jutterbock said. "We knew we were better than that. We came in here and knew we had to get the job done."
Right off the bat, the Blue Wave dictated the pace of play, slowing things down to a crawl by clogging up the neutral zone. The two teams combined for just seven shots in the first period, none of them of any consequence.
"Prep's still a good team. They move the puck very well. They go D-to-D and hit the weak-side winger where they just touch it in and they go. They keep that pace going," Gerwig said. "We knew in order to skate with them we had to cut off the lanes and not give them the center of the ice."
Prep began to pick up some speed in the second period and seemed as if it might flip on the switch, but Juterbock's goal stopped the Jesuits in their tracks. Owen Koorbusch got the puck to Watters along the left boards. With two players in the area, Watters saw Jutterbock behind the net and flipped a pass near the right post.
Juterbock came around and easily tapped it past Gutierrez, a Darien resident, for a 1-0 lead.
"I came out from behind the net and we just caught eyes," Juterbock said. "He made a nice crisp pass and I had an open net. It was easy from there."
After that, Darien stopped forechecking with any seriousness, putting all of its energy on stopping the Jesuits from mounting an offensive attack.
"We just kept getting the puck deep and skated as hard as we could," Juterbock said. "We covered our men and just went all out."
In order for a game-plan like this to work, it takes a great effort by the goalkeeper. Although he faced just 18 shots, Colon stopped them all without issue. That included four saves over the first 3:00 of the third period and a nice stop on Justin Blanchette on a wrap-around attempt with two minutes left in the third.
"My goalie had an outstanding game," Gerwig said. "Any time you can come to this barn and pitch a win like that, it says something about him. But we had guys diving and blocking shots in front of him like we've never done before, so I think the guys really wanted it."
Darien took a roughing penalty with four seconds left and Prep's goalie on the bench, giving the Jesuits a 6-on-4 advantage, but Koorbusch won a faceoff against Prep senior captain Matt Wikman to preserve the victory.
DARIEN 0 1 0--1
FAIRFIELD PREP 0 0 0--0
Records: Darien 1-1, Fairfield Prep 1-1. Goals: D--Robbie Juterbock. Assists: D--Tommy Watters, Owen Koorbusch. Shots: D--13, FP--18. Goalies: D--Michael Colon (18 saves); FP--Chris Gutierrez (12).