Ridgefield High School boys hockey coach Shaun Gallagher cringed when he heard the “P” word mentioned in the same sentence with his team that finished the regular FCIAC season undefeated and untied.
That’s P as in perfect.
There have been few, if any, schools that have streaked through a difficult regular season and postseason winning every conference game. The FCIAC Tournament began in 1979-80 and an undefeated, untied conference season has been a rarity. This year’s Ridgefield squad enters the tournament 11-0 and needs two more victories for — shall we say it? — perfection.
“It’s very rare and I’m proud of our effort and persistence, but we’re not looking at that at all,” Gallagher said. “Being undefeated and untied in the league right now won’t help us win the next one.”
The next one for Ridgefield (18-2 overall) comes next Wednesday in the FCIAC semifinals. The Tigers, who received a first-round bye, will find out their semifinal opponent Saturday when the opening round is played at Stamford’s Terry Connors Rink.
In the 3 p.m. opener Saturday, third seed Fairfield will battle sixth seed Greenwich. In the 5 p.m. nightcap, No. 4 Westhill/Stamford takes on No. 5 St. Joseph. The Fairfield-Greenwich winner will then face Ridgefield at 8 p.m. at Connors while the Westhill/Stamford-St. Joseph winner meets No. 2 New Canaan in the first game Wednesday, at 6. The final is set for Saturday, March 4 at Connors at 2:30 p.m.
Ridgefield, looking for its third FCIAC title in six years and fifth overall, has been led by leading scorer Matteo van Wees (15 goals, 8 assists), along with forwards Jeff Pracella, Jack Stafford and sophomore Nick Cullinan. Sean Keegans has been outstanding in goal, as the Tigers have allowed just 28 goals in 20 games.
A New Canaan-Ridgefield final is expected, perhaps even hoped for by most FCIAC devotees. Ridgefield, the top-ranked Division 1 team in the state, beat New Canaan twice during the regular season (4-2 on Dec. 30 and 3-1 on Feb. 7), and a potential third meeting sounds quite enticing. But Gallagher won’t even contemplate win No. 13 right now because, well, he knows better.
“In my second year at Ridgefield (2009) we were the No. 7 seed and we played No. 2 New Canaan and beat them,” Gallagher said. “Then we played (No. 3) Darien and were beating them, 2-1, late in the third period but lost, 3-2. New Canaan is a great team this year but there is not one team we are worrying about more than any other.”
New Canaan (16-3-1, 9-1-1) has been clearly the second-best team in the FCIAC this year. The Rams are ranked third in Division 1 and will be a tough out. For the record, Ridgefield has lost twice this season, 3-2 in overtime to Xavier and 4-1 to Fairfield Prep. New Canaan just beat Xavier, 3-2, on Monday, although the Rams lost a 3-2 decision to Xavier earlier this season.
“Last March, after getting knocked out of the FCIAC and state tournaments early, I could kind of tell that this would be a special group coming in this year,” New Canaan coach Pat Gore said. “I could tell that they really wanted to change the final result.”
The group is led by leading scorer Tyler Hill (16 goals, 13 assists) and forwards George McMahon, Anton Adding, Brooks Gammill and Gunnar Granito. Defenseman and four-year starter Drew Morris has had an outstanding season and goalies Peter Windas and backup Liam Mooney have allowed just 35 goals in 20 games.
“It’s tough right now because we will have had eight or nine days of practice before playing a game next Wednesday,” Gore said. “But it’s nice to have that bye.”
New Canaan is looking for its 19th FCIAC championship and fourth since 2010, although Gore is looking for his first since replacing the legendary Bo Hickey. The Rams would love to get Gore his first and ruin Ridgefield’s hopes for a perfect FCIAC season.
“A New Canaan-Ridgefield final would be great,” Gore said. “Ridgefield is dangerous but the other four teams all scare you as a coach, too. Whoever we play next Wednesday is going to be the most dangerous.”
Fairfield (14-4-2, 7-2-2) vs. Greenwich (9-10-1, 6-4-1)
Greenwich, the defending champion, edged out two-time defending D1 state champ Darien on tiebreakers for the final playoff spot despite losing to Westhill/Stamford on Wednesday. First year coach Chris Rurak, who replaced Bob Russel, got his team into the tournament after the program suffered huge losses to graduation.
The “rebuilding” Cardinals will count on Matt Bougher, Alex Mozien, Owen Johnson and Akira Dunham for scoring Saturday in front of goalie Alex Presley.
Greenwich and Fairfield tied, 2-2, on Feb. 11. Greenwich lost its regular-season game to New Canaan, 7-4, while Fairfield was routed by the Rams, 9-2.
Fairfield has had one of its best regular seasons ever under coach Carl LaRouche. The Mustangs will be led by forwards Kyle Mazza and Anthony Beccaria and goalie Charles Capalbo.
Westhill/Stamford (11-7-1, 6-4-1) vs. St. Joseph (7-12-1, 6-4-1)
OK, which lucky team gets Ridgefield in the semifinals? Both right now are probably saying, “Bring ‘em on!”
Westhill and coach John Santagata will lean heavily on goalie Christian Campolattaro, who had a strong season, but may be only the second best goaltender in this matchup. Top scorers include Nick Rich and Owen Lilian.
St. Joseph coach Eddy LaMaire is thrilled to have Ryan Wilson, probably the best goalie in the league, in net. The Cadets also have perhaps the top defenseman in Andrew Van Etten. Forward Evan Bocchino leads a balanced scoring attack.
Westhill/Stamford prevailed in the regular-season contest between the two teams, 3-0, back on Jan. 28, but lost to Ridgefield, 6-2. St. Joseph fared slightly better against the top-seed Tigers, dropping a 2-0 decision.
NOTES: Greenwich beat St. Joseph, 5-0, in last year’s FCIAC final, after St. Joseph upset defending champ Darien in the semifinals. … Before the Darien and Greenwich FCIAC championships in 2015 and 2016, New Canaan and Ridgefield combined to win the previous five league crowns. New Canaan won in 2010, 2011 and 2014, while Ridgefield won the title in 2012 and 2013. In fact, every FCIAC championship except one since 1996 has been won by either New Canaan (9), Ridgefield (3), Darien (4) and Greenwich (4). Stamford High won it in 2003. … Westhill/Stamford, currently ranked eighth in D2, is the only one of the six playoff participants that will not playing in next month’s D1 state tournament.