Ridgefield routs Darien, 7-0, in state quarterfinals

The defending state champs made a statement on Sunday.

After scoring three goals in the first eight minutes of the opening period, fifth-seed Ridgefield went on to rout 13th-seed Darien, 7-0, in a boys hockey Division I state quarterfinal game at the Wonderland of Ice in Bridgeport.

The Tigers (20-4) will now face arguably their biggest challenge of the season: Wednesday night’s state semifinal (7:30) versus top-seed Fairfield Prep at Yale University’s Ingalls Rink.

Prep, which edged Notre Dame-Fairfield, 4-3, in another quarterfinal on Sunday, is unbeaten against Connecticut teams and soundly defeated Ridgefield by scores of 6-1 and 5-1 during the regular season.

Ridgefield was electric in the first period of Sunday’s game. Led by junior forwards Nick Cullinan, Matt Walker and Will Forrest, the Tigers’ relentless forecheck kept Darien pinned in its zone.

Cullinan netted the first goal off assists from senior Del Irving and Walker just 61 seconds into the game. Forrest scored off an assist from Cullinan just over four minutes later, and senior Kieran McGowan converted from a tide side angle to give the Tigers a 3-0 lead with 7:27 still left in the first period.

“Coming out that strong is huge,” said Forrest after the game. “Getting those three goals early, it really keeps you motivated.”

The game got chippy as the first period wore on, and Darien was called for a slew of penalties, including a five-minute major. The Blue Wave was able to kill off those penalties and keep its deficit at 3-0 at the end of the first 15 minutes.

Things settled down considerably at the start of the second as Darien dug in and worked to slow Ridgefield’s breakneck tempo. The Blue Wave was called for a few more penalties but was again able to keep the Tigers from capitalizing on the opportunities.

But with just over a minute left, Walker skated down the right wing, beat a defender to the outside and then cut in front of the net to increase Ridgefield’s lead to 4-0 going into the final period.

“We didn’t help ourselves getting down [3-0], obviously,” said Darien head coach Mac Budd, whose team ended the season with an 11-12-1 record. “We were kind of thinking that, even though the score was three-nothing, that we would get a little momentum after killing those penalties. But one of the things about killing those penalties is that it requires a lot of energy, and so it seemed that from that point on we just didn’t play with the same energy.”

With the game all but decided going into the third period, Ridgefield kept the pressure up. Darien battled until the last minute, but goals from Forrest, Cullinan, and McGowan sealed the overwhelming 7-0 victory for the Tigers.

“I feel great [about the win],” said Ridgefield head coach Shaun Gallagher after the game. “It was nice to see the guys execute, especially five-on-five. Darien came out very strong in the first period, but we were able to score early and never let them back.”

After winning a second straight FCIAC title, Ridgefield now has aspirations of winning the state championship for the second year in a row as well. Forrest said that the Tigers stayed motivated during the blowout by focusing on the chance to get back to the state championship game.

“Last year, we went to the Whale [Ingalls Rink] and we loved that,” he said. “We won states that year, obviously, and we just want to go back … looking forward to the future, that’s what kept us motivated and kept us with our foot on the gas.”

Forrest said that he and his teammates are also excited about a third meeting with Fairfield Prep.

“We want Prep,” said Forrest. “It’s not a championship season if you don’t beat the best team in the state.”

Notes: Cullinan, Forrest and McGowan had two goals apiece for Ridgefield. Walker added the other goal.

Cullinan and Forrest each finished with three assists. Kees van Wees, Tom Lombardozzi, Liam Galloway, Walker, and Irving had one assist apiece.

Ridgefield goalie Sean Gordon made 10 saves for the shutout.

The Tigers outshot Darien, 31-10.