DARIEN — Three versus one was decided by two.
In a battle of the league’s top teams in the standings — and a pair of state title contenders — Ridgefield scored a pair of goals three minutes apart late in the second period and held on for a 3-1 win over New Canaan tonight in a physical, penalty-filled game. The outcome was not decided until Matteo van Wees delivered an empty-net goal with 34 seconds left.
“New Canaan is always a great team, it adds another win to the win column and it shows we are as good as we say we are,” Ridgefield goaltender Sean Keegans said. “This is a confidence booster. We’ve played some weaker teams recently and in previous years that has struck us down. Playing at the ability and skill level and speed of those weaker teams. We’re playing up to where we need to play with that fast pace, good passes, strong shots, which will help us going into those tournaments.”
The game, which was originally scheduled for 15 days earlier, was a rematch of the teams’ meeting on Dec. 30, a 4-2 win by the Tigers (14-1, 8-0 FCIAC), who have now won 13 in a row.
“It’s just another win, part of the process, it’s just a matter of keeping focus for the next game and only the next game,” Ridgefield coach Shaun Gallagher said.
New Canaan (11-3, 6-1), which had not yielded the first goal in a game all season, got within 2-1 when Gunnar Granito scored on a rebound at the end of a power play at the 2:29 mark of the third period.
But the Rams could not equalize, despite a pair of good chances. Granito hit the post and Keegans made two big saves in the final minutes.
“It was definitely tough being up by only one but I was confident in the ability of my team and the ability of my defensemen to get it done,” Keegans said.
Added Gallagher, “After they made it a one-goal game you could tell they grabbed momentum and we had to fight through a couple of power plays there. Definitely a gutsy win.”
The Tigers’ goals came on a pair of high wrist shots, the first by Joe Signorelli and the second from Nick Cullinan.
Ridgefield came into the game as the top rated team in the state. The latest poll was released just before the opening whistle and the Rams had dropped a spot, to No. 3.
“I thought for a February hockey game it was really playoff-type atmosphere,” New Canaan coach Pat Gore said. “Back and forth, good plays at both ends. The positive out of this that we can take is it’s a playoff game that we saw we need to be a little better. We have the speed, we have the talent. The good thing is what we need, we have there. But these big games, both times against Ridgefield, against Xavier, three losses, we haven’t played a full 45-minute game. We haven’t done that yet all year. We’re still taking way too many penalties in tough games like this, and it gets us out of our rhythm. We just have to improve and get better.”