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Defensive strength helps Darien top Southington co-op in state title game

The Southington co-op celebrates after Nicole Partridge (24) scored to give the Nightahwks a 2-1 lead in Wednesday night’s state championship game in Hamden. Darien prevailed 5-3.

HAMDEN, March 8, 2023 – Few teams got pucks into the net against the Darien High girls hockey team this winter. The Blue Wave had eight shutouts coming into Wednesday night’s Connecticut High School Girls Hockey Association (CHSGHA) title game at Quinnipiac University.

On just two occasions, the Blue Wave gave up more than two goals in a single game and once came in a 7-6 loss to Southington co-op in early February.

Last night, Southington co-op tied the game at 3-3 with a goal with 5:35 remaining in the second period but top-seeded Darien scored a short-handed goal with 3:52 left in the period and added another in the third period to win their fourth state championship with a 5-3 win over No. 2 Southington co-op.

Sophomore Natalie Beach had a pair of goals and one assist for Darien (22-1-2), which won their first state championship since 2018. The Blue Wave dropped a triple OT decision to New Canaan in last year’s title game.

Emily Schneider, Nicole Partridge and Emily Moskal each had goals for the Nighthawks (21-4), who were making their first-ever championship game appearance.

After getting off 10 shots and scoring twice in the second period, Darien limited Southington co-op to just three shots in the third period.

“Their defensemen played excellent in their own end,” Southington co-op coach Mike Carrera said. “We didn’t get the time. We didn’t have any time or space (offensively). They took that away from us. We had no time to setup. Even when we got (the puck) through the neutral zone, they were on us. They did a great job defensively. That was the key tonight.”

The Nighthawks, who are made up of skaters from Southington, Avon, Wethersfield, Coventry, Newington,Watertown, RHAM and Berlin, had a 2-1 lead early in the second period.

“They’re the only team that could score that many goals on us,” Darien coach Jamie Tropsa said. “That is how good they are. We tried to play well defensively as a group. We try to put pressure on you at atll times and we have people coming back (defensively). It’s not just two defensemen. You’ll have to beat some forwards to are busting their butts to get back.”

Tied at 1-1 after one period, it was Partridge with a backhand flip into the net with 11:59 left in the second period to give the Nighthawks their first lead of the game seconds after a power plant expired.

A little over a minute later, Beach picked off an attempted pass to clear the zone, drove to the net an scored to tie the game at 2-2.

Avon freshman Ashlee Hart (27) battles for position in Wednesday’s state title game in Hamden. Darien beat Southington co-op 5-3.

Two minutes later, Gretchen Edwards scored past screened Nighthawk goalie Sophia Ojala (23 saves) with 8:09 left in the period for a 3-2 lead.

Southington co-op tied the score at 3-3 when Moskol picked up a loose puck near the net and her backhanded shot got past keeper Isabella Lonergan with 5:39 left in the second period.

Darien capitalized with a shorthanded goal to take a 4-3 lead with 3:52 remaining the second period. When a Southington skater slipped in her own zone and lost the puck, Chelsea Donovan scooped it up and drove to the net. She shot deflected off Ojala’s pads to Ellie Laforce, who scored.

The Blue Wave got a big insurance goal with 3:49 left in the game when Beach popped in a rebound of a shot that bounced off Ojala’s pads.

Southington co-op had a two-man advantage for nearly a minute in the third period but couldn’t get much pressure on net.

Avon freshman Ashlee Hart was the only Avon player on the varsity squad and got a few shifts in Wednesday night’s title game. There was such interest in the team this year that the program formed a junior varsity squad as well.

Wethersfield had six players on the varsity squad with four players from Southington along with players from Coventry (2), Watertown (1), Newington (1), RHAM (2), Berlin (1) and Avon (1). For the first five years of the program, Avon has was the host school. This year, Southington became the host school.

Darien 5, Southington co-op 3
At Hamden
Southington co-op (21-4)      1  2  0  — 3
Darien (22-1-2)                        1  3  1  — 5
Goals: Kelsey Brown (D), Natalie Beach (D) 2, Gretchen Edwards (D), Ellie Laforce (D); Emily Schneider (S), Nicole Partridge (S), Emily Moskal (S); Assists: Bella Bonfiglio (S), Beach (D), Maggie Bellissimo (D), Chelsea Donovan (D) 2, Lila Fiorita (D); Saves – Isabella Lonergan (D) 14, Sophia Ojala (S) 23; Shots: Darien 28-17

2023 CHSGHA state tournament

Darien won their fourth state championship on Wednesday night in Hamden.

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of The Collinsville Press. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 40 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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