DARIEN — Two boys ice hockey games in two days will take its toll on the best teams. Even the No. 1 ranked Ridgefield Tigers aren’t immune, but they again found a way to win.
It also helps when you have a spectacular goalie.
With senior Sean Gordon racking up 36 saves, the Tigers overcame seven penalties and defeated the Darien Blue Wave, 2-0, Saturday at the Darien Ice House.
It was the Tigers’ second win over Darien in as many days, as the two FCIAC rivals played a home-and-home doubleheader. Ridgefield won on Friday, 3-2 in OT, at the Winter Garden Arena in Ridgefield.
The speed was a bit slower on Saturday, but the game was equally competitive.
“Today, it was grinding it out,” Gordon said. “This is the first team besides maybe LaSalle (Academy of Rhode Island), that we didn’t have it from the beginning. We had to battle back, especially with all the penalties in the first period. We had a lot of good mental toughness today.”
“They’re a very good team, well-coached and good players, top to bottom,” Ridgefield coach Shaun Gallagher said. “They have no weaknesses. It was really fun to get this atmosphere and intensity because you know that second game was going to be intense after the first one yesterday. Both teams brought that today.”
“It was fantastic,” Daren head coach Mac Budd said. “It was a really, really great experience. We have some great senior leadership, but we also have some younger guys and it was great for all of them to play in these games. You really test yourself when you have to come back the very next day, play the same team, and try to get to the same level of intensity.”
The Tigers’ goals were scored by Will Forrest — who had the game-winner in OT on Friday — and Nick Cullinan, but the Wave held a 36-19 advantage in shots.
Ridgefield (9-0) was its own worst enemy in the first period, committing three penalties as the Wave dominated the flow. Darien (4-4) had an 11-3 advantage in shots on goal, but Gordon cleaned it all up with 11 saves.
“As expected, it didn’t have quite the speed of the game last night, but all in all it was another great battle and another game that could’ve gone either way,” Budd said. “We did a lot of good stuff and their goalie played very well. Obviously, we needed to capitalize when we have the power play earlier in the game. When we had the power play and we didn’t score, we lost a bit of momentum.”
Play was more balanced in the second stanza, although Darien again led in shots, 18-11.
Around the five-minute mark, both goalies came up huge.
Forrest got in front of a couple of Darien players in the neutral zone and sliced into the zone, but his pass across the front of the net was just out of reach of Cullinan.
Darien had a rush the other way, with Matt Daileader taking the first shot from the slot. Gordon blocked that and the puck came out to John Reid, but his return attempt was also deflected by Gordon.
The Tigers returned the favor with pressure on the Wave defense, but Wave goalie Henri Pfeifle (17 saves) ended that when he gloved a shot from the point.
Ridgefield finally broke the scoring ice with 1:31 remaining in the second period when Forrest fired one in from just inside the blue line. The puck rang in off the pipe with an assist from Dan Parson.
“When you spend that much time on the PK, it’s definitely hard to gather momentum and keep your guys fresh,” Gallagher said. “I give my [players a ton of credit for working through it and battling all of that adversity today.”
An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Parson after the goal gave the Wave its sixth power play, but Gordon was a whirlwind, as he made three great saves during the ensuing penalty kill.
“I wasn’t thinking about anything, just the puck,” Gordon said. “I just wanted to keep the puck out of the net. There was one lucky one where I was diving and that was pure reaction. I was doing my best to keep any negative things out of my head.”
“He’s our best player for sure,” Gallagher said. “Having to kill 14 minutes of penalties, so a full period of penalties, you’re going to need your goalie to step up and he did that.”
Ridgefield doubled its lead to 2-0 when Cullinan took a pass from Kees van Wees on the backdoor and buried it during a power play with 10:14 remaining.
“They’re undefeated, they’re No. 1 in the state and it’s easy to see why,” Budd said. “They battle hard. We played them tough and they’re a very, very good team, there’s little doubt about that. But make no mistake, we have to figure out a way to beat them. I have a strong suspicion that if you’re going to win the FCIAC or the states, you’re going to have to beat that Ridgefield team at some point.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Sean Gordon, Ridgefield. The senior goalie came up huge for the Tigers, making 36 saves for the shutout. He was on point from start to finish, with 11 stops in the first period and 18 in the second.
“They were amazing. So many blocked shots and intercepted passes. Even the forwards were involved, that was the best PK we’ve had this year and maybe the last two years.” — Ridgefield goalie Sean Gordon, talking about the Tigers’ penalty kill
RIDGEFIELD 2, DARIEN 0
RIDGEFIELD 0 1 1 — 2
DARIEN 0 0 0 — 0
First Period: No goals; Second Period: R — Will Forrest (Dan Parson), 13:29; Third Period — R – Nick Cullinan (Kees van Wees), 4:46.
Goalies: Ridgefield — Sean Gordon 36 saves; Darien — Henri Pfeifle 17 saves.
Shots: Darien — 36; Ridgefield — 19.