DARIEN — It was getting late in the second period tonight and all of a sudden Ridgefield High School’s hopes of getting a chance to defend its FCIAC boys hockey championship were beginning to look a bit murky.
Darien was playing well at both ends of the ice, much better than the Blue Wave did in its loss to Ridgefield 12 days earlier, and had just grabbed the momentum on Jack Massey’s game-tying goal.
The defending-champion Tigers needed a lift, and soon, or else it would be Darien and Greenwich fighting it out for the title on Saturday.
Enter Braedon McSpedon.
“Braedon does a little bit of everything for us,” Ridgefield coach Sean Gallagher said. “He played defense last year and is now a forward, so he’s always finding a way do something. He knows what has to be done and he stepped up tonight.”
Less than three minutes after Massey had tied the game at 1-1, McSpedon was in the right place at the right time. His rebound from 10 feet out beat Darien goaltender Henri Pfeifle for what proved to be the game-winner in Ridgefield’s 2-1 victory at the Darien Ice House.
“Scoring the game-winner was awesome,” McSpedon said after his 14th goal of the season. “We got a shot off and it hit some players in front, and it bounced right in front of me and I just knocked it in. It was definitely the biggest goal I ever scored.”
McSpedon’s goal came with 2:53 remaining in the second period. With Ridgefield goalie Sean Gordon (18 saves) playing as well as he had all season, the one-goal lead would hold up, sending the Tigers to Saturday’s championship game against Greenwich at 2:30 p.m. at the Ice House.
The Cardinals defeated Fairfield, 10-4, in tonight’s first game.
“Darien really played well tonight, a completely different team than the one we saw two weeks ago,” said Gallagher, whose team has just five seniors. “Give them a lot of credit. They were ready. But Gordon did some of his best work of the year tonight and Braeden and Matt (Walker) came through.”
The second-seeded Tigers (17-4) took a 1-0 lead 30 seconds into the contest when Walker scored on a breakaway after a Darien clearing attempt hit him in the leg. An early goal like that tends to be pivotal in big games, although Darien coach Mac Budd didn’t think so.
“If they had pumped in two or three more then maybe it might have been important but we didn’t fold,” Budd said. “We were right there the whole game.”
The opening period was relatively even — at least after the first half-minute. But then Walker gained control of the puck near the blue line and skated in alone on Pfeifle, who finished with 21 saves.
Walker then deftly lifted the puck over Pfeifle’s left shoulder and the Tigers had a 1-0 lead.
“That goal was huge for us,” McSpedon said, offering a different opinion than Budd.
Gallagher agreed with his player.
“Walker really created his opportunity,” Gallagher said. “That was a really good start. But the second goal was even bigger.”
Ridgefield, which defeated Darien 5-3 on Feb. 16, looked primed to widen the lead early in the second period, collecting five shots on goal in the first three minutes while holding third-seeded Darien (9-11-1) to none. But Pfeifle turned them away and the Blue Wave were finally able to get even 9:40 into the middle period.
Massey grabbed a rebound in the right faceoff circle and beat Gordon to tie it.
But 2½ minutes later Ridgefield grabbed the lead again. After Del Irving’s point-blank shot was blocked in front, McSpedon was there to knock it in.
So now Ridgefield gets its chance to defend its title against the Cardinals. It’s the way it should be, according to Budd.
“Saturday will feature the two best teams in the FCIAC, from start to finish,” Budd said. “They deserve to be there.”
Greenwich 10, Fairfield 4
The best part of tonight’s FCIAC semifinal for Fairfield seemed to happen in the first 67 seconds of the second period. Two quick goals against top-seeded Greenwich suddenly turned a 3-0 deficit into a close game.
But upon further review, it might have been the worst thing that could’ve happened to the No. 5 Mustangs.
“When they got those quick two early in the second period,” Greenwich coach Chris Rurak said, “we might have gotten a little down . . . but it also got us angry. The boys decided this was not acceptable.”
And from that point on the Cardinals were in total command and cruised to clinch a berth in Saturday’s final.
Alex Mozian led Greenwich (19-2) with three goals while Matt Davey and Nikita Kovalev had two each.
“Alex is a hard worker, he is explosive, has good size, tenacity and a high hockey IQ,” Rurak said. “He really is the complete package.”
Nick Pelletier, John Lawrence and Andrew Frost also scored for the Cardinals, who will be looking for their 12th FCIAC championship and second in three years.
“It’s a pleasure to coach when you have this kind of depth,” Rurak said. “It’s fun to coach a team like this.”
Michael Chavinsky, Sam Shepard, Rhys Davies and Carson Rush scored for Fairfield (11-9), which dropped an 8-3 regular-season decision to the Cardinals on Feb. 15.
Greenwich goalie Dylan Dreher had 17 saves while Fairfield’s Dawson Gunn stopped 24 shots.