No matter the sport, it\u2019s a commonality all top high school programs share: The ability to remain a championship contender in spite of heavy personnel losses. Last season\u2019s Ridgefield High boys hockey team showed why it belongs in any conversation about the state\u2019s elite. The Tigers graduated numerous players from the 2016-17 team that won both FCIAC and Division I state titles and were still able to defend their conference championship before falling to Fairfield Prep in the state semifinals. \u201cConsidering who we lost, a lot of people thought we might take a step back last year,\u201d said Ridgefield head coach Shaun Gallagher. \u201cBut we were able to compete at nearly the same level, winning FCIACs and reaching the state semifinals.\u201d Although dominating defenseman Liam Galloway (first team All-FCIAC and All-State) and several other contributors have gone, Ridgefield\u2019s graduation exits are not nearly as significant as they were a year ago. With that in mind, it\u2019s no wonder many coaches regard the Tigers as the state\u2019s best team entering the season. \u201cWe do return a lot of good players,\u201d said Gallagher, whose team opens the season Wednesday night against reigning state champ Fairfield Prep. \u201cBut we still need to continue to try and get better. We can\u2019t take anything for granted.\u201d One thing is all but certain: Ridgefield\u2019s top line will score goals. Seniors Will Forrest (center), Nick Cullinan and Matt Walker combined for 136 points last winter and should continue their reign of terror against opposing goalies this season. \u201cThe way they play together is definitely a strong look for our team,\u201d said Gallagher. \u201cWhenever they are on the ice they are going to be a threat to score.\u201d The same could be said about Ridgefield\u2019s second line of senior center Henry Garlick and junior wingers Kees van Wees and Owen Luft. \u201cThey have a lot of great chemistry,\u201d said Gallagher. \u201cAnd they are all big, strong players who can skate well.\u201d More production is likely from the Tigers\u2019 third line of junior center Luke Welsh, senior winger Jack Pereira and sophomore winger Will Stewart, who played Bantam hockey last winter. \u201cThey have looked good during the preseason,\u201d said Gallagher. \u201cNot many teams are going to have a third line like that.\u201d Two other forwards, seniors Tyler Gordon and Christoph Schneider, might also contribute. \u201cThey are right there with the other guys,\u201d said Gallagher. To help compensate for Galloway\u2019s departure, Gallagher has moved senior Brady McSpedon from forward to defense. \u201cBrady is so physical and reads the game well,\u201d said Gallagher. \u201cHe should give us some of the physicality that we lost with Liam (Galloway) leaving.\u201d Joining McSpedon on the blueline are seniors Simon van Wees and Daniel Parson and junior Kevin McNicholas. All three were regulars last season and supply a variety of skills. \u201cSimon is big, smooth skater; Daniel is physical and patient; and Kevin is an excellent skater who makes a great first pass,\u201d said Gallagher. Add senior Logan Chang and junior Patrick Rigby and Gallagher has the luxury of playing six defensemen in most games. Then there is senior Sean Gordon, who gives Ridgefield one of the state\u2019s premier goalies. \u201cHe\u2019s calm and he\u2019s always in the right place,\u201d said Gallagher about Gordon. \u201cHe has also put in a ton of work during the off-season to get ready for this year.\u201d One concern for the Tigers could be the lack of an established backup goalie. Last season\u2019s understudy, Jack Rahlfs, moved to Texas, leaving Ridgefield with a question mark behind Gordon. \u201cWe have a few younger goalies who show promise but don\u2019t have varsity experience,\u201d said Gallagher. It\u2019s a minor worry, though. With all the returning talent on hand, the Tigers are primed to compete for a third straight conference title and a second state championship in three years. Notes: Cullinan made the Division I All-State first team and the All-FCIAC second team last season. Forrest was named to the All-FCIAC second team.