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BOYS HOCKEY Rams fall to Tigers in FCIAC clash

January 16, 2019

The Ridgefield Tigers have emerged unscathed from the first half of the boys ice hockey season and, to put it simply, they’re having a blast.

“It’s a lot of fun,” senior Nick Cullinan said. “You get to see everybody working and playing well and Sean (Gordon) is playing out of his mind every single night. It’s a lot of fun and we’ll see if we can keep it going.”

Cullinan notched a hat trick and one assist, and Kees van Wees scored twice, as the Tigers made the New Canaan Rams their latest victims with a 6-1 victory Tuesday night at the Darien Ice House.

The game was close for the first 20 minutes — Cullinan’s first-period goal was the only scoring to that point — but the Tigers scored twice in the final 4:19 of the second stanza before rolling with three more in the third.

Ridgefield is now 10-0 and looking every bit the part of the No. 1-ranked team in the state. The Tigers have also won three games in five days against FCIAC playoff contenders, beating Darien on back-to-back days Friday and Saturday before the win over New Canaan.

“We started a little slow in the first,” Ridgefield head coach Shaun Gallagher said. “It’s been a lot of hockey in a short amount of time, so it was good to see us respond in the second and third periods with a lot more energy.”

No. 6 New Canaan, which is 5-5, continued its trend of playing well for much of its games, but giving up big plays at key moments.

“It’s the same as it’s been,” New Canaan head coach Clark Jones said. “We love a lot of what we’re doing. From a game management standpoint, we can’t consistently do it right now. When we make mistakes, they’re significant. You can play a really good game for 70-80 percent of the game, but when the other 20 percent there are catastrophic errors going on, this is what you get.”

Ridgefield’s defense, which is sometimes overlooked behind the potent offense, was on point again. Goalie Sean Gordon made 22 saves, allowing only a third-period score to New Canaan senior Brendan Knightly when the Tigers were already ahead 5-0.

The defense also featured seniors Brady McSpedon, Simon van Wees, Daniel Parson, and Logan Chang, and juniors Patrick Rigby and Kevin McNicholas.

“They take a lot of pride in being strong, being simple, taking care of the front of our net and taking care of the puck,” Gallagher said. “I give the defense a lot of credit on how they’ve performed this year and what it means to our team. It’s guys stepping up and coming into significant roles this year.”

With some fine play from its senior goalie Dylan Shane (27 saves), New Canaan kept it close with Ridgefield during the first period, as the Tigers led in shots 9-6 and play was end-to-end for much of the frame.

“We were playing simple hockey,” Jones said. “We were getting pucks out, we were getting pucks deeps, we were pressuring the puck, and we kept the play in front of us for most of that period. It’s not rocket science. It’s very simple, hard hockey, finish your checks, finish the play, and block shots. If we let those guys get behind us, they’re going to make us pay, and they did.”

Cullinan’s back-hander with 5:28 on the clock was the only goal of the first period, and Shane and the Ram defense kept the deficit at 1-0 until late in the second frame.

The Tigers’ second goal came on a 1-on-1 break by Cullinan, who fired the puck low at Shane. The goalie partially blocked the shot, but the puck trickled through the five-hole and crossed the line for a 2-0 lead.

Kees van Wees netted the next goal with an assist from Will Stewart for a 3-0 lead after two periods.

Ridgefield then scored twice in a span of 16 seconds early in the third period to seal the deal. Cullinan completed his hat trick with an assist from Matt Walker at the 2:50 mark, and Forrest scored at 3:06.

After Knightly put New Canaan on the scoreboard with 8:31 to play, Kees van Wees scored his second of the night for the final tally.

For Gallagher, getting a road win against a New Canaan program is never easy.

“New Canaan and Ridgefield will always be a good rivalry game, especially in this building,” Gallagher said. “It’s never easy to come play here, so any time you come out with a win against a good program like New Canaan, it’s a good night.”

Player of the Game

Nick Cullinan, Ridgefield. The senior forward had a hand in four of the Tigers’ goals, scoring once in each period and assisting on a goal by Will Forrest in the third.

Quotable

“It’s just taking it one game at a time. We’re focusing on whoever we have next. We’ve got Trinity Catholic on Saturday, a couple of practices in between now and then, so we’ll focus on them and see what happens.” — Ridgefield forward Nick Cullinan on the Tigers’ season.

RIDGEFIELD 6, NEW CANAAN 1

RIDGEFIELD 1 2 3—6

NEW CANAAN 0 0 1—1

First Period: R - Nick Cullinan (Logan Chang, Simon van Wees) 9:32; Second Period: R - Cullinan (Daniel Parson) 10:41; R - Kees van Wees (Will Stewart); Third Period: R - Cullinan (Matt Walker) 2:50; R - Will Forrest (Cullinan) 3:06; NC - Brendan Knightly (Jack O’Hare) 6:29; R - Kees van Wees (Owen Luft, Kevin McNicholas) 14:26

Goalies: R - Sean Gordon 22 saves; NC - Dylan Shane 27 saves; Shots: R 33; NC 23.

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