DARIEN — In compiling a 10-0 start and establishing itself as the favorite not just in the FCIAC but the state, the Ridgefield hockey team has gained notoriety for its goal-scoring prowess.
What has been overshadowed is the number of goals the Tigers have allowed. Or, more accurately, not allowed.
Case in point: tonight’s 6-1 win over New Canaan. Nick Cullinan, the Tigers’ magnificent forward, scored three times, giving him 20 goals for the season. It was the seventh time the team has scored at least five goals in a game.
But the defense had a shutout until the Rams’ Brendan Knightly scored with 8 1/2 minutes remaining. It was the sixth time the Tigers have allowed one goal or fewer. They have given up just 12 all year.
“They’ve been phenomenal,” said goaltender Sean Gordon, who should be including himself when assessing the members of the back line. “Pretty much every single time there is an opportunity to block a shot or get rid of a rebound, they’re there. I can trust them to make the backdoor pass, I can trust them to make the hard play.”
The Tigers were playing for the third time in five days. They defeated Darien in a home-and-home weekend series, then returned to the Darien Ice House tonight and defeated the team that after the Blue Wave may be their biggest conference obstacle.
“We came out a little bit slow in the beginning but we’ve had a bunch of games this week so I think we’re getting a little bit tired,” Gordon said. We picked it up at the end so that was nice. It’s always fun beating New Canaan, Darien, Greenwich, all the good FCIAC competition. It’s also very nice beating them at their home rink.”
The Rams (5-5) stayed close in the early going. Cullinan, off a feed from Will Forrest, got his first goal at 9:32 of the opening period. The score stayed that way until Cullinan struck again, at 10:41 of the second period. Kees van Wees scored the first of his two goals just over two minutes later.
“We started a little slow in the first,” Ridgefield coach Shaun Gallagher said. “Its been a lot of hockey in a short amount of time. It was good to see us respond in the second and third periods with a lot more energy. New Canaan and Ridgefield will always be a good rivalry game, especially in this building. It’s never easy to come and play here so any time you come out with a win against a good program like New Canaan it’s a good night.”
Gordon pinpointed one reason for the defensive success: “We have an insane amount of depth,” he said.
Simon van Wees and Brady McSpedon set the tone. Gallagher said he thought McSpedon played his best game of the season tonight.
There are playmakers like Daniel Parson and Kevin McNicholas. And Logan Chang and Patrick Rigby have flourished with more ice time.
“Guys stepping up and coming out of not as significant a role last year into significant roles this year,” Gallagher said. “They take a lot of pride in being strong and being simple and taking care of the front of our net, and taking good care of the puck. I give the defense a lot for credit for how they performed this year and what it means to our team.”
New Canaan coach Clark Jones said his players got off to a strong start but were unable to sustain their execution.
“We were playing simple hockey,” Jones said. “We were getting pucks out, we were getting pucks deep, we were pressuring the puck and we kept the play in front of us for much of that period. Lets play simple, hard hockey. Finish the checks, finish the play, block shots. If we let those guys get behind us they are going to make you pay, and they did.”
Asked what it will take to defeat the Tigers, Jones said, “You have to play a complete game of managing the game in an intelligent way, and that has to go for 45 minutes.”
Solving Ridgefield’s defense may prove even more difficult.