Boys hockey: Ridgefield kills late penalty, beats Darien

Less than four minutes after it closed to within one goal, the Darien boys hockey team went on the power play with 3:49 left in Friday afternoon's game with Ridgefield.

Shaun Gallagher, Ridgefield's head coach, admitted that he was concerned.

"We gave up a goal on Fairfield Prep's only power play of the game Wednesday," said Gallagher, "and Darien got its first goal today on a power play."

But with their two penalty kill units limiting Darien to one shot on net during the two minutes, the Tigers preserved their 4-3 lead. And when the Blue Wave pulled goalie Henri Pfeifele for an extra skater, Ridgefield forward Kees van Wees capitalized by scoring into the empty net with 53 seconds remaining to close out the Tigers' 5-3 win at Terry Conners Rink in Stamford.

Ridgefield, which was coming off a 5-1 loss to Prep, improved its record to 14-3 overall and 9-0-0 in the FCIAC. Darien dropped to 8-9-1 and 7-2-1 in the conference.

With Darien and Ridgefield trading goals in the first two periods, Friday's game was tied 2-2 entering the final 15 minutes. The Tigers went ahead on Will Forrest's goal just 3:10 into the period, and then made it 4-2 when Matt Walker deflected Liam Galloway's shot from the point past Pfeifele with 7:54 to play.

Darien, however, needed only 37 seconds to respond. Defenseman James Gregory, a physical force all game, blasted home a slapshot from the point to get the Blue Wave back within a goal with 7:17 left.

Three and a half minutes later, Ridgefield's Brady McSpedon was called for interference on a big open-ice hit, giving Darien a power play. But the Blue Wave were unable to muster much pressure against either Ridgefield's first (Walker, Forrest, Galloway, Simon van Wees) or second (Del Irving, Kieran McGowan, Ty Fujitani, Thomas Lombardozzi) penalty-kill units. Parker McLane had the only shot on target for Darien, and Ridgefield goalie Sean Gordon was able to deny that attempt with a pad save.

As the clock dipped under one minute, Kees van Wees then settled the outcome when he sent a shot from just outside the blue line into Darien's empty net.

"A lot of credit goes to Darien; they tied it twice and they didn't quit..." said Gallagher. "And I'm proud of our guys for the effort they put forward. They kind of outlasted the other team in a really good battle."

Ridgefield went ahead 1-0 midway through the first period when Kieran McGowan scored on a backhander off assists from Irving and Kees van Wees.

McGowan then made a nice pass from behind the net to set up Kees van Wees for a shot that went wide, and Luke Welsh had a backhand attempt stopped by Pfeifele.

With Gregory supplying several big hits, the Blue Wave increased their physical play and began to generate chances. A late penalty on Ridgefield resulted in Will Johnston's power-play goal on an assist from Hudson Pokorny with 48 seconds left, tying the score at the end of the first period.

McSpedon put the Tigers back in front when he scored on a power play just over a minute into the second period. Walker was credited with an assist on the play.

Darien re-tied the game with 7:09 to go in the period, as Will Culliton converted a smooth backhand feed from Max Sharp.

The score stayed 2-2 until Forrest and Walker registered their back-to-back goals for Ridgefield in the third period.

Notes: Ridgefield was without top-line winger Nick Cullinan and forward Henry Garlick, who were both out sick.

"A couple of guys really stepped up. Matt Walker stepped up and Kieran McGowan stepped up ... he had a great game and scored our first goal of the game on a nice rebound," said Gallagher. "Owen Luft and Tyler Gordon also stepped in and filled in roles they weren't used to."

Defenseman Kevin McNicholas assisted on Forrest's go-ahead goal in the third period.

Pokorny finished with two assists for Darien. McLane and Gregory each added one assist.