Ridgefield thumps West Haven, advances to D1 state finals

For the first time in program history, the Ridgefield High boys hockey team is headed to the Division I state finals.

A three-goal flurry early in the third period broke a 1-1 tie and powered second-seed Ridgefield past sixth-seed West Haven, 5-1, in a semifinal game Friday night at Yale University's Ingalls Rink.

The Tigers (23-2-0) will now meet top-seed Northwest Catholic in the Division 1 championship game Monday night at 7 p.m. at Ingalls Rink. Northwest Catholic, which defeated fourth-seed New Canaan, 6-3, in the first semifinal Friday, will also be playing in the D1 finals for the first time.

Despite controlling play and getting far more quality chances, Ridgefield found itself tied with West Haven, 1-1, through two periods. Jack McGeary's power-play goal (on assists from Harrison Chuma and Jeff Pracella) gave the Tigers a 1-0 lead with 5:13 left in the opening period, but West Haven's Collin Braziel scored with 3:17 left in the second period to tie the game.

Ridgefield outshot the Westies, 20-8, over the first two periods but was denied by several fantastic saves from West Haven goalie Brenden Serenson. The Tigers also hit the crossbar in the first period and a post in the second period.

Less than two minutes into the third period, Ridgefield went ahead to stay when Jack Stafford flipped an innocent puck on net that got past Serenson. "... I saw a guy going to the net hard so I threw it for him to get the rebound and it found a hole and went in," said Stafford.

A few minutes later, Stafford followed with his second goal, converting from the slot on a pass from Nick Cullinan. "The second [goal] was all my linemate, Nicky Cullinan," said Stafford. "It was a heads-up play by him to intercept that pass, and then no one covered me in front and he just made a perfect pass and I saw it [the puck] in the back of the net."

Fifty-eight seconds later the lead grew to 4-1 as Charlie Luft scored off a face-off. Pracella then added the fifth and final Ridgefield goal when he fired a shot into an empty West Haven net with 2:34 remaining.

"Jack Stafford's two goals really led the charge and we were able to bury a good team," said Ridgefield head coach Shaun Gallagher. "Defensively, there was a lot of toughness even after giving up that first (West Haven) goal. If we can take this type of performance into the finals I have lots of confidence in our guys."

Notes: Will Forrest contributed two assists for the Tigers, and Matt Walker, Jonas Chang, Chuma, Pracella, and Cullinan each had one assist.

Ridgefield goalie Sean Keegans finished with 19 saves, while Serenson made 29 stops for West Haven (16-7-0).

The Tigers' only state title came in 2002 when they defeated Milford, 8-3, in the Division 2 finals.

Press Sports Reporter Chris Sacchi contributed to the story.