Playing for the first time in 10 days, the Ridgefield boys hockey team was not as crisp as usual at the outset of Friday afternoon’s game against Greenwich. Twice, the Tigers had to come back from one-goal deficits to tie the score in the opening period.
“The layoff clearly wasn’t good for us,” Ridgefield coach Shaun Gallagher said. “It took us a while to get our legs going.”
Once the Tigers did, they began looking more like the unbeaten team that is ranked first in the state.
Ridgefield broke a 2-2 tie with two goals in the final six minutes of the second period and then added the only goal of the third period to beat Greenwich, 5-2, at the Winter Garden.
The Tigers improved to 11-0, while Greenwich fell to 4-6-2.
The game served as a benefit for seven-year-old Sam Buck, a Greenwich resident who is fighting Vanishing White Matter (a rare neurological disease). Buck and his family were recognized at center ice before the game and he dropped a ceremonial puck.
Nick Cullinan and Kees van Wees accounted for all the Ridgefield scoring. Cullinan got the first three goals and van Wees added the final two.
“There are plenty of games where you don’t have a good start and you don’t have a good finish either,” Gallagher said. “So to be able to recover from a tough start is a really good thing to see.”
“They have good depth and they’re very elusive with their transition game,” Greenwich coach Chris Rusack said about the Tigers. “If you’re not picking up the high guy, the third guy coming through, then they capitalize on that.
“It was a physical game, but it was more of a mental game for us, trying to cover them,” Rusack added. “Sometimes we got mismatched and they took advantage.”
After seven-plus scoreless minutes to start the first period, the teams traded a pair of rapid-fire goals. Julian Ribushofski gave Greenwich the lead with 7:54 left in the period, but Ridgefield won the ensuing face-off and Cullinan scored to tie the game just 15 seconds later.
Thirty-one seconds later, the visitors were back in front, as Matt Davey buried a shot on a power play for a 2-1 Greenwich lead.
“Greenwich is a physical team. They work hard,” Gallagher said. “They don’t give you the time and space that you find in practices”
Ridgefield was able to re-tie the game with 1:30 left in the opening period. Greenwich goalie Ben Nash made a nice save on Will Forrest’s shot, but the rebound went to Cullinan, who had plenty of open net in which to deposit his second goal.
Cullinan completed his hat trick with 5:41 remaining in the second period, putting the Tigers ahead 3-2. Van Wees then collected a pretty back pass from Will Stewart and snapped a wrist shot over Nash’s shoulder for a 4-2 Ridgefield advantage going into the final period.
Van Wees then ended the scoring with his second goal, converting Owen Luft’s feed from behind the net with 5:17 to go in the game.
Gallagher thought the Tigers could have added a few more goals.
“As the game went on we had plenty of chances,” he said. “We just didn’t bury some of them. I think we hit two posts, three posts. There were a couple of times where we literally missed an open net.”
Despite the loss, Rusack saw some positives for Greenwich.
“We’re still trying to find out identity, but today was a lot of progress,” Rusack said. “Last year we had (Alex) Mozian and (Nikita) Kovalev who could score at will. Now these guys have to step up, but they have to find a different way to win. We’re going through that now.”
Player of the Game
Nick Cullinan, Ridgefield. Cullinan’s first two goals came after Greenwich had taken one-goal leads in the opening period. His third goal gave the Tigers a 3-2 lead in the second period and turned out to be the game-winner.
“A lot of our guys were really, really excited to meet him,” Gallagher said in reference to Sam Buck. “It took our pre-game energy in a little bit of a different direction but, personally, I think, in a good way.”
Ridgefield 5, Greenwich 2
Greenwich 2 0 0 – 2
Ridgefield 2 2 1 – 5
First period: G: Julian Ribushofski (Matt Davey, Wesley Zolin), 7:54; R: Cullinan (unassisted),
7:39; G- Davey (Sean Pratley, Jack Hutchins), 6:50; R: Cullinan (Simon van Wees, Will Forrest),
Second period: R: Cullinan (Forrest, Matt Walker), 5:29; R: Kees van Wees (Will Stewart, Owen
Third period: R: Kees van Wees (Luft), 5:17.
Saves: G – Ben Nash 26; R – Sean Gordon 14.