RIDGEFIELD — This season has already had plenty of ups and downs for the Ridgefield High School boys hockey team, and Saturday night’s overtime win over Hamden was certainly one of the high points.
After watching a three-goal, second-period lead evaporate, the Tigers came back to win in overtime at the Winter Garden, 4-3, on junior Nick Cullinan’s third goal of the night. They very nearly let this one slip away, but they remained poised in the face of the Green Dragons’ fiery comeback and snatched the victory away.
“It’s was good to see the mental toughness,” Ridgefield coach Shaun Gallagher said. “When the you lose a lead and the momentum swings the other way, to see the kids stay mentally tough and not let it get to them was huge.”
Cullinan, who had scored on a pair of deflections during the Tigers’ three-goal outburst in the second period, banged home the rebound of a Ty Fujitani shot from the blue line for the winner with 2:02 remaining in the eight-minute overtime period.
Matt Walker also scored for Ridgefield (3-2), which scored the first three goals of the game in a span of less than six minutes in the second period. Goalie Sean Gordon made 20 saves.
“It’s great to get back over .500,” Cullinan said. “Sean played great in net. Even when they came back, I thought we never got too high or too low. We just grinded out a big win.”
A.J. Luedee, Mason Boyhen and Michael Gethings all scored for Hamden (4-2), which scored the next three goals in a span of eight minutes late in the second period and early in the third. Goalie Steven Turner made 25 saves.
Hamden coach Todd Hall’s message to his distraught players in the dressing room after the game was simple. He praised them for their gutsy effort and told them they had no reason to hang their heads. After all, as he pointed out, the Dragons had just rallied from a three-goal deficit — and nearly pulled off an improbable come-from-behind victory — on the road against the reigning Division I state champs.
“It was a good game,” Hall said. “We spotted them a few goals in the second period, and our kids battled back, which was a good thing to see. These are the defending state champions right there, and it’s their building.
“That’s what’s good about this team,” Hall continued. “They battled back, and they didn’t get down. That overtime could’ve gone either way.”
The Dragons have lost two straight after a red-hot start which included four straight wins against Darien, New Canaan, Notre Dame of West Haven and Xavier. Wednesday’s 7-0 home loss to Greenwich was Hamden’s first defeat of the season.
The Dragons are hoping to steer out of this skid when they host Amity at the Lou Astorino Ice Rink on Wednesday.
ON THE UPSWING
Ridgefield has won two straight, having beaten New Canaan on Wednesday. The Tigers lost to Fairfield Prep to open the season, then beat Xavier, then lost a one-goal heartbreaker to Notre Dame of West Haven. The Tigers would obviously like to keep this win streak going. They’re scheduled to host St. Joseph on Wednesday at the Winter Garden.
“It’s a great group,” Cullinan said. “I feel like we have better chemistry than any team I’ve ever been on. Everybody gets along, and we gel. It’s just a matter of believing in the system, buying in, and everybody bringing their best effort every night.”
RIDGEFIELD 4, HAMDEN 3, OT
HAMDEN0 1 2 0 — 3
RIDGEFIELD0 3 0 1 — 4
First period: None.
Second period: 1. R, Nick Cullinan (Simon van Wees, Braeden McSpedon) 3:32; 2. R, Matt Walker (Del Irving, Kees van Wees) 7:27; 3. R, Cullinan (McSpedon, Will Forrest) ppg., 9:12; 4. H, A.J. Luedee (Michael Gethings, Alexander Hernandez) 12:17.
Third period: 5. H, Mason Boyhen (Gethings) 3:18; 6. H, Gethings (Benjamin Chicoine) 4:50.
Overtime: 7. R, Cullinan (Ty Fujitani) 5:58.
Goalies: H—Steven Turner (25 saves); R—Sean Gordon (20 saves).
Records: Hamden 4-2; Ridgefield 3-2.