Darien boys hockey hangs tough, falls to Ridgefield, 5-3
Less than four minutes after it closed to within one goal, the Darien boys ice hockey team went on the power play with 3:49 left in Friday afternoon's game with the Ridgefield Tigers.
Shaun Gallagher, Ridgefield's head coach, admitted that he was concerned.
"We gave up a goal on Fairfield Prep's only power play of the game Wednesday," said Gallagher, "and Darien got its first goal today on a power play."
But with their two penalty kill units limiting Darien to one shot on net during the power play, the Tigers preserved their 4-3 lead. And when the Blue Wave pulled goalie Henri Pfeifle for an extra skater, Ridgefield forward Kees van Wees capitalized by scoring into the empty net with 53 seconds remaining to close out the Tigers' 5-3 win at Terry Conners Rink in Stamford.
The loss was tough for the Wave, who had been playing very well of late — they were 5-0-1 in the last six — but didn’t have it’s best stuff against Ridgefield.
“The guys battled hard to stay in that game for most of the game, so I do give them credit because they kept it close until to the end,” head coach Mac Budd said. “But I felt the better team won today and in regards to battles, while it was a close game, they got the better of us today.”
The loss dropped the Blue Wave’s record to 7-2-1 in the FCIAC and 8-9-1 overall, and likely took them out of the running for one of the top two spots, and an opening round bye, in the FCIAC tournament which begins on Feb. 24.
Ridgefield, which is unbeaten in the FCIAC, locked up one of the top two seeds for the tournament and is now 14-3 overall and 9-0-0 in the conference.
The biggest positive for the Wave was its tenacity, as Darien overcame one-goal deficits to even the score in both the second and third period, and then responded to back-to-back goals by Ridgefield with a quick answer during the third period.
Will Johnston, Will Cullitan and James Gregory all scored for the Wave, and Hudson Pokorny had two assists. Gregory, Max Sharp and Parker McLane had one assist apiece.
For the Tigers, five players scored, as Kieran McGowan, Brady McSpedon, Will Forrest and Matt Walker all found the goal before van Wees had the empty-netter.
With Darien and Ridgefield trading goals in the first two periods, Friday's game was tied 2-2 entering the final 15 minutes.
The Tigers went ahead on Forrest's goal just 3:10 into the period, and then made it 4-2 when Matt Walker deflected Liam Galloway's shot from the point past Pfeiffle with 7:54 to play.
Darien, however, needed only 37 seconds to respond. Defenseman Gregory, a physical force all game, blasted home a slapshot from the point to get the Blue Wave back within a goal with 7:17 left.
Three and a half minutes later, Ridgefield's McSpedon was called for interference on a big open-ice hit, giving Darien a power play.
But the Blue Wave were unable to muster much pressure against Ridgefield's penalty-kill units. McLane had the only shot on target for Darien, and Ridgefield goalie Sean Gordon was able to deny that attempt with a pad save.
As the clock dipped under one minute, van Wees then settled the outcome when he sent a shot from just outside the blue line into Darien's empty net.
Both coaches had high praise for their opponents after the game.
“Hats off to Ridgefield — they’re a great program,” Budd said. “Shaun (Gallagher) coaches them up year-in and year-out regardless of whether it’s young kids or experienced kids, he always seems to get those guys at the top and this year is no different.”
“A lot of credit goes to Darien; they tied it twice and they didn't quit..." said Gallagher. "And I'm proud of our guys for the effort they put forward. They kind of outlasted the other team in a really good battle."
Ridgefield went ahead 1-0 midway through the first period when McGowan scored on a backhander off assists from Irving and van Wees.
McGowan then made a nice pass from behind the net to set up Kees van Wees for a shot that went wide, and Luke Welsh had a backhand attempt stopped by Pfeiffle.
With Gregory supplying several big hits, the Blue Wave increased their physical play and began to generate chances. A late penalty on Ridgefield resulted in Johnston's power-play goal on an assist from Pokorny with 48 seconds left, tying the score at the end of the first period.
McSpedon put the Tigers back in front when he scored on a power play just over a minute into the second period. Walker was credited with an assist on the play.
Darien re-tied the game with 7:09 to go in the period, as Culliton converted a smooth backhand feed from Sharp.
The score stayed 2-2 until Forrest and Walker registered their back-to-back goals for Ridgefield in the third period.
“On a day when I didn’t feel like we had our best stuff, they definitely battled hard to stay in that game,” Budd said. “I felt like in that first period we were outplayed and we found a way to come in and make it 1-1. In the second period, it was more of an even period. It felt like we were battling from behind the entire day. They were pretty darn good and certainly our guys played hard to try and stay in there, but I think that we can play better.”
Ridgefield 5, Darien 3
Friday, Feb. 16, at Terry Conners Rink
Ridgefield 1-1-3 5
Darien 1-1-1 3
Ridgefield: Matt Walker 1 goal, 1 assist; Kees van Wees 1 goal, 1 assist; Kieran McGowan 1 goal; Brady McSpedon 1 goal; Will Forrest 1 goal; Del Irving 1 assist; Kevin McNicholas 1 assist; Liam Galloway 1 assist
Darien: James Gregory 1 goal, 1 assist; Hudson Pokorny 2 assists; Will Johnston 1 goal; Will Culliton 1 goal; Max Sharp 1 assist; Parker McLane 1 assist
R - Sean Gordon 20 saves
D - Henri Pfeifle 30 saves