Ridgefield begins quest for first D1 state tonight tonight

Fresh off one championship, the Ridgefield High boys hockey team now begins its quest for a bigger, more elusive prize.

The Tigers, who defeated New Canaan, 5-2, to win the FCIAC title last Saturday, open the Division I state tournament with a first-round game against two-time defending champion Darien tonight (March 8) at 6:40 at the Winter Garden Ice Arena in Ridgefield.

Based on regular-season records, Ridgefield (20-2) is seeded second and Darien (8-11-1) is seeded 15th in the 16-team field. The winner of tonight's game plays either seventh-seed Fairfield Prep or 10th-seed SGWL in the quarterfinals on Saturday at a site and time to be determined.

A traditional conference and state heavyweight, Darien had a rare subpar regular season, failing to make the eight-team FCIAC playoffs and barely qualifying for the Division I tourney. But Ridgefield head coach Shaun Gallagher remains wary of the Blue Wave, who lost 4-0 to Ridgefield during the regular season.

"Darien has a great program, and they lost close games to several of the state's top teams this season," said Gallagher. "This is tough draw for us. They have a lot of good players."

Ranked first in state polls throughout the regular season and entering the Division I tournament, Ridgefield is considered one of the favorites to reach the championship game on Saturday, March 18, at Yale University's Ingalls Rink. That would be a first for the Tigers, who have never made it past the Division I semifinals. Ridgefield's lone state title came in 2002, when it defeated Milford to win the Division II championship.

Last year, the Tigers lost in two overtimes to Greenwich in the first round of the Division I tournament.

"It's something the program has never done," said Gallagher about winning a D1 state title. "It would be a huge accomplishment, especially this year, because there are at least five or six teams who could win and no one would be surprised.

"I certainly think we have the skill and the depth and the motivation to go all the way," added Gallagher. "We have a bunch of seniors on this team, and I know they are driven to end their careers as state champs."

Notes: To see the Division I state tournament bracket (with links to rosters and regular-season results), click here.