Boys Ice Hockey Division I Championship
Ridgefield 6, Northwest Catholic 2
By Mike Madera
Special to CIACsports.com
NEW HAVEN – With an explosive offense on the other side of the ice, the Ridgefield hockey team knew the importance of getting on the scoreboard first. Coach Shaun Gallagher could not have imagined what would follow.
Scoring three times in a span of 24 seconds in the first period, second-seeded Ridgefield never trailed and defeated top-seeded Northwest Catholic 6-2 in the Division I finals at Yale University’s Ingalls Rink Monday evening.
The title was Ridgefield’s second in program history, and first since 2002 when the Tigers defeated Milford in the Division II final.
“That was huge,” Gallagher said of the quick scoring. “We wanted to be able to get ahead and that was a huge swing in momentum there obviously. It was important for us to jump out in front.”
The first period was evenly matched until the final five minutes when the Tigers took control of the contest.
With neither team able to get on the scoreboard, that all changed with 4:01 to go when Jack Stafford threw a pass in front and Nick Cullinan waited in front for the tap-in and a 1-0 lead.
Just 15 seconds later, Ridgefield had a 2-0 lead. With Northwest Catholic goalie Cal Skwara stopping Jeff Pracella’s initial back-hander, Matteo van Wees knocked in the loose puck for a two-goal advantage.
“It was great to go up by three goals,” van Wees said. “That didn’t change what we were going to do. We just wanted to come after them. We wanted to get as many shots on goal as possible.”
The Tigers (24-2-0) were not done. Taking advantage of a Northwest Catholic turnover, van Wees fed Pracella, who ripped a shot past Skwara for a 3-0 lead with 3:37 left in the opening period.
“That was tough,” Northwest Catholic coach Donald Melanson said of the three goals. “We talked about how it was a huge momentum shift. We were able to bounce back a little in the second, but climbing that mountain was a little too tough.”
Ridgefield goaltender Sean Keegans came up big for the Tigers in the opening period, denying the Lions until his offense got going. Keegans denied Anthony Ceolin from in close 2:20 in, then denied a perfectly tipped shot by Ceolin in front with 6:49 to go.
The Lions (21-4-1) refused to die in the second period, scoring twice in the final 6:38 to get within a goal after two periods of play. After Ridgefield’s Landon Byers watched his shot stop short on the goal line behind Skwara, Northwest Catholic roared back.
Ceolin picked up a loose puck at the blue line, went towards the boards, then used his shoulder as a shield, before roofing a shot past Keegans with less than seven minutes remaining.
After Paul Arel and Ryan Sherba were denied by Keegans, Kevin Eustis won a draw to Arel who skated in and beat Keegans with one minute remaining in the middle period.
Ridgefield, which has been a strong third period team, continued that trend in the final 15 minutes. With all the momentum on the side of Northwest Catholic, Ridgefield needed just 53 seconds to end any thoughts of a comeback.
Off assists from Cullinan and Stafford, Will Forrest gave the Tigers a 4-2 advantage. The goal by Forrest got Ridgefield going again and the Tigers capitalized when Cullinan’s shot was juggled, before Stafford tapped in the loose puck with 8:46 remaining.
“The third period has been our best period all year,” Gallagher said. “Even when we went with two lines all year, we had more energy and were able to grind out some big plays.”
The Tigers iced the game with 2:20 to go when Forrest fed van Wees on the left side and the senior sniped a shot to the far corner past Skwara.
Cullinan and Stafford each had a goal and two assists, while van Wees had two goals and an assist in the win. Keegans made 30 saves for Ridgefield.