RIDGEFIELD — The opportunistic play of Ridgefield’s first line kept it undefeated against the team that figures to be the main obstacle to league and perhaps state titles.
Will Forrest intercepted a pass and lifted a shot high into the net just 23 seconds into overtime to give the Tigers a 3-2 win over Darien in the first game of a rare and anticipated home-and-home series.
The teams will meet again tomorrow in Darien.
“All the credit to my line,” Forrest said. “They forced the turnover and I was able to capitalize. An open shot in front. I was in my position and when you’re in your position good things happen. The kid threw it out to the middle and I was ready for it. I just took a backhanded shot and put it right in.”
The goal came after the Blue Wave’s Bennett McDermott had tied the score at 2-2 on a beautiful one-time finish in front at 7:35 of the final period.
“It was a great high school hockey game,” Ridgefield coach Shaun Gallagher said. “Back and forth, chances for both sides. Exchanged power play goals on 5 on 3s. You’re supposed to convert on those. Both teams did. Their second goal was a great pass across. It was a great game.”
After a scoreless first period, Patrick Conway finished a shot by James Gregory to give the Blue Wave a 1-0 lead at 7:36 of the second period. It came on a two-man advantage that included a five-minute major penalty.
Gallagher said the minimal damage was important to the outcome.
“You’re buried in your own zone and you come out with only one, that is helpful to the win,” Gallagher said.
The Tigers (8-0) found themselves in the same advantageous situation later in the period, leading to the first of Nick Cullinan’s two goals, off an assist from Kees van Wees, with 2:02 left.
Cullinan scored 15 seconds into the final period for a 3-2 lead, until McDermott equalized.
Ridgefield is not accustomed to playing from behind, but Forrest said it was not a concern.
“We know what we need to do,” Forrest said. “We’ve been there before. We’ve always produced. It is when you are down that you have to buckle down.”
The game had the kind of intensity one would expect from a championship both teams hope to be playing for next month.
“Every year you can pinpoint a couple of games and that was a quality game,” Darien coach Mac Budd said. “They are well coached. You are always going to get a big battle here. They have a hell of a team this year so I was happy with the way our guys played and I felt it could have gone either way. They deserved it too.”
Gallagher agreed; the Tigers have won their last three games by a 21-2 margin.
“These are all just experiences we hope carry over,” Gallagher said. “Either way, win or lose, we are going to look at the film and try to get better.”
Darien is now 4-3. Budd said he was pleased with his players’ performance.
“For our guys that’s as well as we’ve played,” Budd said. “Two good teams. It’s nice to come out and play a big game. It would have been nice to come out with a win but I’m happy with the way we competed. We played hard and made some big plays.”
It was Gallagher’s idea to play the team’s two games on consecutive days.
“I’m sure it will be a lot more contentious and fiery tomorrow but that’s hockey,” Forrest said. “It’s going to be exciting. They are going to be a different team tomorrow, we are going to be a different team tomorrow so we will see who is better.”