After winning the FCIAC and state Division I championship in 2017-18, the Ridgefield Tigers suffered massive graduation losses and were expected to take a big step back.
Then the Tigers repeated as FCIAC champs and reached the D1 semifinals, where they lost to eventual champion Fairfield Prep. That’s about as big a step back as this program takes these days.
This year the personnel losses were not as substantial. So yes, the Tigers are poised to make it three in a row in the FCIAC this season, although the usual suspects — Greenwich, Darien and New Canaan — figure to have something to say about that.
Ridgefield. The Tigers, who beat Greenwich, 6-4, in last season’s FCIAC final, have one of the most dominant scoring lines in the state with Nick Cullinan, Matt Walker and Will Forrest. The trio combined for 136 points last season.
The depth of the forward lines should throw a scare into opposing defenses and goalies. Henry Garlick, Owen Luft and Kees van Wees should provide plenty of scoring when the first line is taking a breather.
The defense should be stronger as forward Brady McSpedon is moving to the back line, joining a group led by Simon van Wees, Daniel Parson and Kevin Nicholas.
And if all that isn’t enough, there is Sean Gordon in goal. Gordon was a 15-game winner last year and one of the top three goalies in the league.
The Tigers have won 75 percent of their games (74-24-2) the last five years. Don’t be surprised if the winning percentage this season tops that.
Darien. Surprisingly, the Blue Wave were the consensus No. 2 pick behind Ridgefield in a poll of FCIAC coaches. Slightly surprising because they are coming off back-to-back losing seasons. And yet not so surprising, however, considering they are just three years removed from winning back-to-back state championships.
The Blue Wave did lose a handful talent to graduation, including Hunter Hazelton, Connor McCarthy, Will Dickson and Will Johnson. But with all-state goalie Henry Pfeifle back, plus three key returning three-year starters, it would not be much of a stretch for this team to go deep into the postseason.
Defenseman James Gregory is one of the best returning back-liners in the FCIAC. Forward CJ Hathaway is a terrific all-around center who plays a 200-foot game. Hudson Pokorney, meanwhile, is a prototype power forward who has a tendency of scoring clutch goals.
New Canaan. The Rams have always been a solid program but they haven’t made a lot of noise in the FCIAC or the state for a while, making the D1 semis just once in seven years. That could change this season.
Led by forward Gunnar Granito and defenseman Turner Ives, the Rams should be able to improve upon last season’s 11-9 mark. There is plenty of depth with forwards Jack O’Hare, Ryan Levene and Campbell Lewis. Ives, Walker Ker and Shane Pickering lead the defense.
The key for the Rams might be sorting out the situation in goal. Dylan Shane and Jack Spain are battling for the No. 1 spot and it would be helpful if one emerged as the no-doubt-about-it starter.
Greenwich. The coaches picked the FCIAC and state D1 runner-ups for fourth place in the FCIAC. It probably has something to do with the Cardinals losing seven key players (five to graduation and two who left to play outside the FCIAC).
But there is little doubt that the Cards, who will lean heavily on goalie Ben Nash and forward Matt Davey, will be contending for yet another berth in the league and state finals.
Nash was terrific in leading the team to 18 wins and the state final last season, where the Cards lost to Fairfield Prep, 4-2. Davey figures to lead the team in scoring and will be joined on the forward lines by speedy Sean Pratley, big-bodied Charlie Graves and sophomore Thatcher Danielson.
On defense the Cards will rely on Ryan Columbo.
Fairfield Co-Op. The Mustangs, who are in their third season as a D1 program, lost much of their scoring when six key players from last year’s squad graduated.
Nevertheless, the Mustangs, who won D2 titles in 2008, ’13 and ’16, hope to continue their steady climb this season. Goalie Will Capalbo should keep them in most games and hopefully forwards Kyle Mazza, Kevin Quinn and Rhys Davies can make up for some of the lost scoring production.
Staples/Weston. The D3 Wreckers won 12 games last year and earned the No. 1 seed in the D3 tournament before getting bounced in the semifinals.
The hope of completing unfinished business will be difficult to realize, however, as the Wreckers suffered major personnel losses to graduation and will be one of the younger teams in the FCIAC this season.
Leading the way will be goalie Dylan Mace, forwards Zach Strober, Brian Krawiec, Alex Goodman and Ben Epes, and defensemen JJ Stanford and Ben Gault.
15 Players To Watch
Nick Cullinan, Ridgefield
Matt Davey, Greenwich
Gavin Dolan, Westhill/Stamford
Will Forrest, Ridgefield
Sean Gordon, Ridgefield
Gunnar Granito, New Canaan
James Gregory, Darien
CJ Hathaway, Darien
Tucker Ives, New Canaan
Jack Linahan, Trinity Catholic
Kyle Mazza, Fairfield Co-Op
Ben Nash, Greenwich
Henri Pfeifle, Darien
Hudson Pokorney, Darien
Matt Walker, Ridgefield
Danbury Co-Op: G Alex Fernandes, D Jake Matson, F Tyler Caldera.
Darien: G Henri Pfeile, D James Gregory, F CJ Hathaway, F Hudson Pokorney, F Bennett McDermott, D Matthew Stein, Jameson Moore, Sam Erickson, Luke Johnston.
Fairfield Co-Op: G Will Capalbo, F Kyle Mazza, F Kevin Quinn, F Rhys Davies, D Sam Swanson, F James Pisciotta, F Matt Newtown, F Brendan Carney, F Matt Janovsky, G John Grace.
Greenwich: G Ben Nash, F Matt Davey, F Sean Pratley, F Charlie Graves, D Ryan Columbo, F Thatcher Danielson, D Isaac Cadigan, D Dylan Madden, Aiden Price, Ben Bates, Charlie Zolin, Jack Hutchins, Jake Shredders, Sam Milazzo, Wes Zolin.
New Canaan: F Gunnar Granito, F Jack O’Hare, F Ryan Levene, F Campbell Lewis, D Turner Ives, D Walker Ker, D Shane Pickering, G Dylan Shane, G Jack Spain, F Sam Augustine, F Boden Gammill, F Sam Ives, D Gavin Reid.
Norwalk/McMahon: F Jeb Boyrer, F Finn Cullen, D Cooper Gibson, D Nat Gibson, G Max Vitucci, D Mike Arena, D Liam Tobias, D Fin Bean, Raf Fillyaw, Alex DiRaffaele.
Ridgefield: F Nick Cullinan, F Matt Walker, F Will Forfest, D Simon van Wees, F Henry Garlick, F Owen Luft, D Brady McSpedon, D Daniel Parson, D Kevin McNicholas, G Sean Gordon, F Kees van Wees.
St. Joseph: F Brandon Roselli, F Tom Schietinger, F Christian Scinto, F Charlie Chagnon, F Wyatt Chrisman, D Liam Gelston, G Chris Higgins, D Kyle Marcinko, G Bill Brady, G Tyler Stewing.
Staples: F Zach Strober, F Brian Krawiec, D JJ Stanford, F Alex Goodman, D Luke Welch, D Ben Gault, F Ben Epes, G Dylan Mace, F Ethan Hynes.
Trinity Catholic: F Jack Kinahan, F Jay Bacco, D Zach Deleo, F/D Billy Schaner, D Emmett Donoghue, F Andrew Ellis, G Jeffrey Reda, F Jack Smith.
Trumbull: G Alex Tsymbaluk, F Alex Jackel, F Nick Marinos, F John Therriault, D Marco Minopoli
Westhill/Stamford: F Gavin Dolan, D Tyler Tuccinardi, F Tucker Healey, F Jason Marchese, Hunter Gilchrist.
Wilton: F Dean DiNanno, F Jackson Kelly, D Thomas McHugh, G Logan Motyka.