GREENWICH — Ridgefield is already a tough team to defend at even strength, but when it’s on a power play, watch out.
The Tigers put on a power play execution clinic during Saturday’s FCIAC boys hockey tournament final against Greenwich and in the process kept their streaks of superiority alive.
Scoring five power play goals, top-seeded Ridgefield won the FCIAC tournament title for the third straight season, posting a decisive 8-1 victory over sixth-seeded Greenwich in a physical, hard-hitting, penalty-filled game at Dorothy Hamill Skating Rink.
Besides earning a sweet three-peat, the Tigers, ranked No. 1 in the GameTimeCT poll, continued their perfect season, raising their record to 22-0.
“Just daily work, there’s no trick to it,” Ridgefield coach Shaun Gallagher said of his squad’s success. “These guys like working hard and they deserve the title for sure. They worked for it.”
Junior forward Kees van Wees scored a team-high four goals, including the last three tallies, for the champion Tigers. Senior forward Will Forrest, was named the MVP of the championship game, registered three goals and one assist for Ridgefield, which claimed its eighth FCIAC title. Saturday night’s showdown was a rematch of last season’s FCIAC final, which saw Ridgefield notch a 6-4 win against Greenwich.
“We’ve been here before, we were here last year and winning it again means a lot, because the FCIAC is such a competitive division,” said Forrest, who scored two goals in the 2018 FCIAC title game. “To win it three times is special.”
Greenwich (11-10-2), which defeated New Canaan and Darien on its way to reaching the tournament’s championship game, received a goal from senior forward Matt Davey. The Cardinals, who dropped a 5-2 regular-season decision to the Tigers, trailed 3-0 after the opening period and 7-1 after the second.
“We didn’t even really have a chance to get momentum going,” GHS coach Chris Rurak said. “Penalty after penalty after penalty, it was going both ways. It’s going to be hard for any team in the state to match power plays with them. Hats off to them, they capitalized on their chances.”
On a 5-on-3 power play, after Greenwich was charged with roughing and interference penalties, the Tigers scored the game’s first goal with 12:52 remaining in the opening period.
Receiving a pass from van Wees at the right post, Forrest got the puck past GHS freshman goalie Charlie Zolin, giving Ridgefield a 1-0 lead.
Still on a power play, Ridgefield gained a 2-0 edge on van Wees’ wraparound goal at the 11:33 mark. The Tigers benefited from another power-play opportunity later in the first period. Forrest went top shelf with his snap shot from the left face-off circle, putting Ridgefield on top, 3-0, with 4:13 still left in the first period.
“We work on our power play during every practice,” van Wees said. “We just continue to work on it and when we get those opportunities, it helps us.”
Said Forrest: “Getting goals and offensive production in a championship game early is important. We wanted to come out fast and we got them on their heels early.”
The Tigers and Cardinals combined for 28 penalties and GHS cashed in on one for their lone goal of the matchup. With the Cardinals on a two-man advantage, Davey gathered the puck on a shot from senior Nic Pellettier-Martinelli that bounded off the boards and knocked it past Ridgefield senior goalie Sean Gordon at the 10:16 mark of the second period.
Any momentum Greenwich gained with its tally was lost, when Ridgefield scored three goals over 2:53 span. Following a five-minute major infraction by Greenwich, Forrest converted a one-timer with 7:09 to go in the second period, then senior forward Nick Cullinan snapped a shot home from the right wing at the 5:28 mark, making it 5-1. Van Wees tallied twice in the second period, giving the Tigers a commanding 7-1 lead.
“Our power play is great, everyone does what they need to do and no one is selfish with the puck,” Forrest said. “If we can get pucks deep, move it around, draw penalties and put power play to work, that’s how we are going to be successful.”
Added Rurak: “When we get into penalty trouble, it’s not our strong suit. Five-on-five is where we need to be.”
Supported by the strong play of his defensemen in front of him, including seniors Simon van Wees and Brady McSpedon, Gordon made 14 saves in goal.
“All season, our defense has just been fantastic,” Gordon said. “They limit the good, quality shots toward me by so much. Today, I feel it wasn’t until the third period until I saw several quality shots, they break up so many shots.”
Zolin made 15 saves for Greenwich, before giving way to junior Ben Nash in goal (three saves).
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Forrest, the MVP, helped set the tone of the game, getting his squad off to a fast start.
“He’s been great all year, he just digs pucks and never gives less than his best effort,” Gallagher said of Forrest. “He is so good at this game and is ready to move on to a higher level.”
“The penalties hurt us, we had a lot of penalties the first few minutes of the game and they scored on every one of them,” GHS senior captain/forward Charlie Graves said. “We laid a big egg today and we know that going forward, we have to play much better.”
Said Kees van Wees: “Our power play was clicking, our team was clicking, it was a great overall game. Winning FCIACs again is an awesome feeling.”