For the second time in program history, the Ridgefield High boys hockey team is the back-to-back conference champion.
With juniors Matt Walker and Will Forrest each scoring two goals, second-seed Ridgefield defeated top-seed Greenwich, 6-4, to win defend its FCIAC title Saturday night at the Dorothy Hamill Skating Rink in Greenwich.
The game — which was moved earlier in the day due to a power outage at the Darien Ice House — was an instant classic, full of fast-paced offense, scoring chances, slick saves, and big hits.
The two biggest goals came at the end of the second period and the early part of the third.
Walker broke a 3-3 tie with 13 seconds left in the middle period, converting from the Greenwich doorstep on a nice feed from linemate Nick Cullinan.
Forrest followed with the first goal of the final period — on another assist from Cullinan — to push the Tigers’ lead to 5-3 with 11:41 to play.
Greenwich got back within a goal when sophomore Nikita Kovalev scored on a power play, but the Cardinals’ comeback hopes took a hit as Ridgefield went on a power play of its own with only 1:48 remaining.
The Tigers capitalized, getting an unassisted goal from Forrest with 1:19 left to go ahead 6-4. Greenwich pulled goalie Ben Nash but was unable to convert, as Ridgefield secured its second consecutive FCIAC championship.
“It’s indescribable to score a goal here at their home rink with their crowd so loud,” said Forrest after the game. “You got to love the crowd coming out to support their team, being rowdy, being great.”
It was Greenwich that struck first, with senior captain Alex Mozian setting up sophomore JT Lawrence to put the Cardinals ahead 1-0 just 2:58 into the opening period.
Senior defenseman Liam Galloway responded for Ridgefield two minutes later, scoring off a rebound on a power play to tie the game at 1-1. Forrest and Cullinan were credited with assists.
With a little over five minutes remaining in the period, Ridgefield was awarded a penalty shot following a pileup in front of the Greenwich net. But Cullinan’s attempt was denied on a nice save by Nash, keeping the game tied.
Less than 30 seconds after Cullinan’s penalty shot was stopped, senior Del Irving scored an unassisted goal to put the Tigers ahead, 2-1.
Greenwich’s Matt Davey then equalized on a power-play opportunity in the waning minutes of the first period, tying the game at 2-2 going into the break.
Walker, part of Ridgefield’s sensational junior line along with Forrest and Cullinan, struck next, getting free in front to give the Tigers a 3-2 lead with 9:43 left in the second period. Forrest and Cullinan had assists on the goal.
Greenwich evened the score less than two minutes later, but Walker’s goal off assists from Forrest and Cullinan made it 4-3, Ridgefield, at the end of the second period.
Junior goalie Sean Gordon (28 saves) was sharp in net, and the Ridgefield defense — led by Galloway and Simon van Wees — held up in crucial situations to preserve the lead.
“I’m very proud of the group and it’s always going to be our goal, winning FCIACs every year,” said Ridgefield head coach Shaun Gallagher. “This group, like last year, bought in and put in the hard work and all the credit goes to them. This is an unbelievable group.”
“We were coming off a huge year and we had to live up to it,” said Irving. “We had to fill the shoes of 12 seniors and we did it today.”
Notes: It was the seventh conference title in program history for Ridgefield.
Walker (two goals), Cullinan (four assists) and Forrest (two goals, three assists) combined for 11 points. Walker was chosen as the game’s MVP.
Ryan Columbo had a goal for Greenwich, and Connor Santry, Nicolas Pelletier-Martinelli, Davey, and Mozian added one assist apiece.
Nash finished with 36 saves in goal for the Cardinals.
Ridgefield (18-4-0) will now begin defense of its Division I state championship. Seeded fifth, the Tigers host 12th-seed Fairfield Warde/Ludlowe on Wednesday (March 7) at 7:30 at the Winter Garden.
Greenwich (19-3-0) is seeded second in Division I and plays 15th-seed St. Joseph in a first-round game March 7 at 6:30 at the Dorothy Hamill Skating Rink.