Darien loses to Ridgefield in FCIAC hockey semifinals
DARIEN — Despite graduating 11 seniors from a season ago and having only five on the team this year, Ridgefield finds itself in familiar territory.
The second-ranked Tigers downed No. 3 Darien 2-1 in the FCIAC semifinals Wednesday night in Darien, and will take on No. 1 Greenwich Saturday night looking to win back-to-back conference titles.
“(Darien was) ready and it was a completely different team than we saw a couple weeks ago,” Ridgefield coach Shaun Gallagher said of the Wave, who Ridgefield beat 5-3 on Feb. 19. “A lot of credit goes to them, so I give my guys a lot of credit for dealing with that. High school kids sometimes can take for granted when you beat a team and see them a second time. Our guys showed up to play today, so that was really nice.”
The Tigers showed up in a hurry as Matt Walker turned a block shot into a breakaway goal just 30 seconds into the contest.
“Matt Walker’s been blocking shots all year for us,” Gallagher said. “Creating those opportunities and more often than not was burying them. It was a really good start for our team.”
A sprawling save by Darien goalie Henri Pfeifle (35 saves) midway through the first turned momentum to the Wave, who tied it up on Brian Zaffino’s rebound goal late in the second period.
The tie lasted less than three minutes as Ridgefield junior Braeden McSpedon snuck in a loose puck in the middle of a multi-player scrum on the doorstep.
“It was in between his legs and I saw it and saw the opportunity and popped it in,” McSpedon said. “It ended up being the game winner, which is awesome.”
Darien kept up the pressure for the remainder of the contest, but couldn’t find the late equalizer.
“The kids played well,” Darien coach Mac Budd said. “I am always happy after a game like that. Obviously, I’d be more pleased if we won, but when the guys play like that I come out and I’m a happy coach because I think as a coaching staff we pride ourselves on having guys that come hard.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Sean Gordon, Ridgefield. The junior goaltender made 28 saves in the contest against a Darien team that would get pucks to the net in bunches. His biggest save came in the waning seconds to preserve the victory.
“Some of his best work of the year in terms of his ability to keep everything nice and calm and relaxed,” Gallagher said. “Made a couple key saves when he had to, to keep us in it and played extremely well.”
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT
The Tigers have an influx of youth from a season ago, with only five seniors on the roster, but the experience of winning the title a year ago has kept the younger players poised in big games.
“It’s very helpful, especially in the locker room,” Gallagher said. “The mentality in how they prepare and practice and the tone that’s set for games is definitely a big part of what those returning guys bring to the team.”
Despite the loss, Darien is playing it’s best hockey of the season as it heads to its state playoff matchup with Notre Dame-West Haven, which it lost to 5-2 early in the year.
“I’d like to be in the FCIAC finals but I can say we certainly gave our best effort and didn’t leave anything,” Budd said. “So yeah, I’m happy with where we are going into states and I feel strongly that if we play a good, solid game with that kind of intensity in the first round of states then were going to give Notre Dame-West Haven some trouble.”
NO. 2 RIDGEFIELD 2, NO. 3 DARIEN 1
DARIEN 0 1 0—1
RIDGEFIELD 1 1 0—2
Goals: D—Brian Zaffino; R—Matt Walker, Braeden McSpedon. Assists: D—Connor McCarthy. Goalies: D—Henri Pfeifle (35 saves); Sean Gordon (28). Shots: D—29; R—36.