Notre Dame falls to Darien in Division I semifinals

Lancer coach Steve Hetherman loves to refer to his players as “muckers” and “pluggers.”
It’s an insiders’ line of affection for hockey players and this group from Notre Dame Catholic High School of Fairfield earned the distinction during the 2013-14 of being able to reach the semifinals of the CIAC Division I state tournament before bowing out in a 3-1 loss to Darien last week.
After becoming the interim coach when veteran mentor Marty Roos suddenly resigned near the end of the 2011-12 year, Hetherman took a group of players to an 18-5-1 record this season.
All of that happened after a 3-3-1 start.
“Most of all, I’m a teacher of the game,” Hetherman said. “We try to educate our boys every day in the elements of hockey.
“Our turnaround this year began while we were playing a game over in New Jersey (in January). We were in a tight game with St. Peter’s Prep when one of our defenseman  makes a crucial mistake and gives up a goal. Of course, we end up being tied by them (3-3).
“So what we did as a team was to go over the film the next day and correct the mistakes.”
That was the beginning of a run in which the Lancers won 15 of 17 games, including one-sided wins over St Joe’s of Trumbull (7-2) and East Haven (11-1) in the first two rounds of the tournament. During the stretch.
In the semis, top-seeded Notre Dame scored early against the fourth-seeded Blue Wave (23-4-1) when Danny Walsh netted a wrap-around goal at 10:37 of the first period.
After that, Darien’s tough defense didn’t allow another goal.
“We knew how explosive they can be on offense,” said Blue Wave coach Chris Gerwig. “We upped the pressure in the neutral zone and forced their defensemen to make quicker decisions. Then, when we were able to secure the puck in mid-ice, we kept firing it back into their zone.”
Hetherman could see it coming.
“What they constantly did was make us play a 200-foot game,” he said. “They made us chase the puck in order to bring it up every time. They wore us out.
“It’s exactly what they did to us during the regular season (a 2-1 Lancer win). It’s a 1-2-2 trap and we couldn’t seem to compensate for it. That, and they did a great job of minimizing our second chances.”
Darien went on to tie the score at 1-1 on a goal by Tommy Watters at 4:57 of the second period.
Watters scored again, with what proved to be the game-winner, at 10:59 of the third before Nick Allam’s score at 11:30 put it out of reach.
The Lancers outshot the Blue Wave, 25-21, but they could only get one puck past Dairen goalie Michael Colon (20 saves).
“Even with this loss, we still had a great season,” Hetherman said. “I told the boys that. When you start out the way we did (with just three wins in the first seven games) and wind up the way we did, it’s a good year.”
Hetherman has taken this team a long ways in just two full seasons.
“I think the key to our success is finding the right system which we can tailor to the level of our talent,” he said. “Again, the more we can educate them, the better they’ll play. I didn’t think that we had the most talented roster in the state. But we had one that was willing to work hard and it showed with our end result.”
In those 24 games, the Lancers scored 132 goals and piled up 185 assists for 317 points.
Senior forward Christian La Croix led them in scoring with 44 points (23 goals, 21 assists) while junior forward Nick Carlotto had 35 points (16-19) and junior Jonathan Suporn had 32 (16-16). Garrett Gintoli had 31 (17-14).
Zack Bouve, a senior, played the majority of games in goal (16). He gave up 37 goals (2.53 goals-against average) while making 380 saves.

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