STAMFORD — If you want to get the correct barometer on where your hockey team stands, playing the three-time defending FCIAC champions is probably the best way to go.
The Westhill-Stamford Co-op boys ice hockey team saw any dreams of an undefeated season end late Wednesday night as it opened its FCIAC campaign with a hard-fought 6-2 loss to Ridgefield at Conners rink.
The loss left Westhill-Stamford at 6-1-1 overall and 0-1 in the FCIAC.
Westhill-Stamford has taken a solid jump forward toward qualifying for the Division II state playoffs. The Vikings — currently ranked No. 5 in Division II — own wins over Division II rivals North Branford, North Haven, East Haven Co-op, Watertown-Pomperaug, Lyman Hall Co-op and Amity. Their tie came against Division I squad Immaculate.
Another future yardstick for Westhill-Stamford will be its January 29 road contest against current Division II leader and defending Division II state champ Branford.
It isn’t surprising that this season could be the best for the Westhill-Stamford co-op since it captured the 2016 Division III state championship.
The Vikings graduated just one senior — Luke Graziano — from last year when it was eliminated in the opening round of the Division II playoffs.
“We can skate with anybody. Our forwards and our defense aren’t afraid of anybody,” said Westhill’s John Santagata, who co-coaches the co-op with Doug Robinson of Stamford. “The game against a tough Division I squad like Ridgefield was a big test. It showed us that we have some things to fix.”
Westhill-Stamford is very young in net with sophomore goalies Jared Maloney (27 saves against Ridgefield) and Luca Scotto.
“Ridgefield had three power-play goals,” Santagata said. “That’s not on Jared (Maloney).”
Westhill-Stamford’s Eddie Zelikman — one of 10 seniors on the roster — scored just 20 seconds into the game against Ridgefield. Hunter Gilchrist scored in the second period for the Co-op to forge a 2-2 tie early in the second period.
However, the good work in the first period was thwarted as Ridgefield’s Cornelius van Wees tallied with just 7.7 seconds left for a 1-1 tie.
Ridgefield also scored on the powerplay with 1:08 left in the second period. And the Tigers also tallied on the powerplay with three seconds left to open the third period as a Westhill-Stamford penalty had a 1:45 carryover.
Overall, Westhill-Stamford was 0-for-4 on its powerplay while allowing the trio of Ridgefield man advantage tallies.
“Jared Maloney made a lot of good saves. But it’s a process when you are a young goalie playing in the FCIAC,” Santagata said. “It’s not easy when you fall behind the Division I teams playing in the FCIAC. We need to be mentally stronger.”
But all in all, the Westhill-Stamford Co-op hockey team is a group that should be heard from when the postseason rolls around in March.