Ridgefield beats Darien, 2-1, to reach FCIAC finals (updated)

The Ridgefield High boys hockey team will get a chance to defend its conference title.

Brady McSpedon's goal with under three minutes to play proved to be the game-winner as second-seed Ridgefield edged third-seed Darien, 2-1, in the FCIAC semifinals Wednesday night at the Darien Ice House.

[The game was shown live on the HAN Network. To watch it on-demand click here.]

The Tigers will now meet top-seed Greenwich for the FCIAC championship on Saturday night at 7 p.m. at the Darien Ice House. Greenwich routed fifth-seed Fairfield, 10-4, in the first semifinal Wednesday.

Ridgefield needed just 30 seconds to take a 1-0 lead over Darien. Forward Matt Walker blocked a shot from the point, collected the puck, and used his speed to create a breakaway, beating Darien goalie Henri Pfeifle.

After the quick strike from Ridgefield, both teams engaged in a fast-paced game with plenty of shots. Darien found its offensive groove, dominating possession in the second half of the opening period, but Ridgefield’s defense held strong backed by superb play in net from junior goalie Sean Gordon.

The Tigers stayed ahead until Brian Zaffino got the tying goal for Darien with 5:41 left in the second period. Off a face-off just outside the blue line, Darien sent the puck into the Ridgefield zone. The Tigers were unable to clear, and a Darien shot bounced off a player in front of the net to Zaffino, who was able to convert.

Less than three minutes later, Ridgefield retook the lead. Defenseman Ty Fujitani flicked a wrist shot that was blocked in front of the net. Del Irving was able to use his skate and redirect the loose puck to McSpedon, who fired a shot into the Darien net for a 3-2 Ridgefield advantage with 2:53 remaining in the second period.

Gordon (26 saves) and the Ridgefield defense, anchored by senior Liam Galloway, protected the lead the rest of the way.

With 3:06 remaining in the final period, Darien called a timeout to discuss its offensive strategy. Ridgefield head coach Sean Gallagher used the break to reinforce his own strategy.

“Just stick with the process, keep working hard ...” said Gallagher when asked what he told his players. “If we were going to win this one we knew we had to battle through the last few minutes. We knew they would put a ton of pressure. We had to keep chances to the outside, block shots, and do our best job.”

“Defense was our number one concern as we were coming into those last few minutes,” added Galloway. “We didn’t really need a goal, we just needed to play strong defense and shut them down hard.”

With 18 seconds remaining, Darien pulled Pfeifle for an extra skater. But the effort was in vain as Ridgefield’s skaters swarmed the puck and denied the Blue Wave from scoring the equalizer.

Notes: Saturday's FCIAC championship game will air live and on-demand on the HAN Network.