Each season, Ridgefield boys hockey coach Shaun Gallagher has high expectations for his team.
While the Tigers have a long history of success, a perfect storm has emerged this season with a combination of factors coming together to make this a special season – at least through the first 18 games- for Ridgefield.
The Tigers are coming off a wild 6-5 overtime win over No. 4 Notre Dame-West Haven on Monday. The Tigers are 17-1 and off to their best start since going 18-2 in the 2011-12 season. In the preseason Register Top 10 Hockey poll Fairfield Prep was No. 1. But the No. 1 Tigers have been in the top spot the entire regular season since the regular season poll debuted on Jan. 3.
One impressive aspect of the Tigers’ success this season is their 8-1 record against Top 10 teams. The only blip so far was a 3-2 overtime loss to No. 2 Xavier on Dec. 23.
“I always expect the Tigers to be good and this year is no different than other seasons in terms of expectations,” Gallagher said. “Up to this point, I think it’s a combination of things contributing to our success.
“Sean Keegans has been outstanding in net. He is fronted by three strong defensive pairs that came into the season with previous experience. Heading towards the opposing net are three lines of forwards that can all make plays. We have several players contributing to our scoring this season.”
The Tigers have been strong on both ends of the ice outscoring opponents 77-22 through 18 games.
“Our team’s strength depends on the game or string of games we’ve played so far,” Gallagher said. “Some games, especially early in the year, we relied heavily on special teams to get us through. We scored 10 power-play goals in the first six or seven games and killed some critical man-down minutes that led to wins.
“Other strings of games were won by simply taking advantage of our 5-on-5 opportunities. Another huge factor that makes this team so fun to coach and be around is the chemistry. They love being around each other and they simply love playing hockey. Those are two underestimated components of success in my opinion.”
One of the many top impact players for the Tigers this season has been Keegans between the pipes who has five shutouts.
“Sean Keegans has been exceptional in net,” Gallagher said. “He is not only a very technically sound goalie, but his attitude and approach to games have been impressive. (Forward) Matteo van Wees is an incredibly powerful kid. Teo has one of the quickest shot releases in high school hockey and the accuracy to put it exactly where he wants it.
“Jack Stafford is our second-line center and has been a very effective all-around hockey player. He’s a great team guy, too. Jack gets more excited when his linemates score goals than when he scores.”
Gallagher said Harrison Chuma and Jack McGeary have improved as defenders since their sophomore year.
“Harrison Chuma and Jack Geary are great examples for our underclassmen of what hard work can accomplish,” Gallagher said. “Joe Signorelli has been the guy that has stepped up beyond what might be considered ‘normal improvement.’ He has worked so hard for years and it has paid off for the Tigers.”
Asked if the regular-season success gives his team a boost and confidence for a deep run in the postseason, Gallagher said, “We take it one game at a time.”
Cheshire boys turn season around
The Cheshire boys hockey team snapped a four-game losing streak with a 5-4 win over SWS on Jan. 18 and have gone 6-2 in their last eight games to turn their season around.
“We play a very challenging schedule so we’re tested for state tournament time,” Cheshire coach Anthony Giusto said. “Our season has been a streaky one. We started out with two good wins, followed by two losses. After a win over a very good Watertown team, we went on a 4 game losing streak with three of the losses coming in overtime.
“We played well during that stretch, but we couldn’t capitalize on our scoring chances. During that four-game losing streak, we outshot our opponents 148-73. In those losses, we played well but couldn’t capitalize on our chances.”
Giusto’s message to the team has been to “keep doing the small things correctly and we will be rewarded for our efforts. Our fortunes turned around since those four losses by doing the small things. We went on a four-game winning streak and now we’ve won six out of our last eight games.”
Among the top scorers for the Rams (9-8) are Matt Federico, Vinnie Solla, Ammar Chaudhry and Liam Killea. Among the top defensemen are Ryan Novia and Ben O’Connor. Tom Bishop has been solid in goal with a 2.47 goals against average and .890 save-percentage.
“We end the season on a very tough three-game stretch with two Division I games against West Haven and Simsbury along with Guilford, a tough Division II team,” Giusto said. “We feel that our challenging schedule makes us a very formidable opponent once we get to the (Division II) state tournament.
“Creating more offense has been our focus in practices and we have seen the result of that in our last few games. Defense and goaltending has actually been our strong point this season.”