DARIEN — After 60 minutes of tight checking hockey, which included a 15-minute first overtime period, the New Canaan Rams — well, at least two of them — had Ridgefield just where they wanted them.
Double overtime means four skaters a side instead of five, which leads to plenty of open ice. That is just the way long-time teammates Shane Mettler and Nick Megdanis like it. And five minutes into the second overtime, the two underclassmen combined for the deciding goal, scored by Mettler, and a 3-2 win, sending the Rams into Saturday’s FCIAC championship game against Darien.
“Megdanis was a threat on the ice all night long and Shane can really go when the ice opens up in 4 on 4,” New Canaan coach Clark Jones said. “We have found a way to win all year and we did it again.”
The No. 1-seeded Rams (18-2-1), ranked third in the state, earned the right to face Darien, the No. 3 seed in the FCIAC tournament and the state’s No. 1 ranked team, in Saturday’s 5:45 p.m. final at Hamill Rink in Greenwich. Darien knocked off Greenwich, 2-1, in today’s other semifinal.
The Rams had a 2-1 lead before three-time FCIAC champion and No. 7 in the state Ridgefield tied it with 8:25 remaining in the third period. Then came 28 minutes and 35 seconds of scoreless hockey, until Mettler, a freshman, and Megdanis, a sophomore, teamed up for the umpteenth time in their young lives.
“We’ve played together since we were little kids and it’s a play we’ve done 100 times,” said Mettler. “I went left first then we crisscrossed and he went left. I was left open and he made a heck of a pass and I just knocked it in.”
“Playing 4 on 4 was nice,” Megdanis added. “We crossed the blue line and Shane gave me a backhand pass and I was able to get it back to Shane and he put it in and now we’re going to the final against Darien. This is huge.”
New Canaan has not won the FCIAC since 2014. The only other time in school history that the Rams have gone six years without a league championship was 1982-89.
“This is huge for the high school and for the town,” Mettler said. “We’re so excited.”
Meanwhile, the winning goal was a major disappointment for Shaun Gallagher’s fourth-seeded Tigers (12-10), who were trying to become only the second team to win four consecutive FCIAC titles (New Canaan did it from 1996 to 1999).
“It hurts because we didn’t bury our chances in front of the net in overtime,” Gallagher said. “You can’t give teams three goals.”
Gallagher was referring to the game-winner as well as the Rams’ first two goals. Fluky? No. A little luck? Maybe.
After a scoreless opening period, the Tigers continued to press in the second period but it was the Rams who cashed in twice. Just 31 seconds in Justin Wietfeldt was credited with the goal after his rebound off a shot by Megdanis was stopped by Matt Silliman (29 saves). But the puck popped up into the air, where it hit off a Ridgefield player in front of the Tigers’ net before trickling through Silliman’s legs.
Saturday’s hero, Will Stewart, then got the Tigers even five minutes later. His rebound eluded Rams goalie Beau Johnson to tie the game at 1-1. Stewart scored the game-winner in overtime against Westhill/Stamford in Saturday’s quarterfinal game.
Ridgefield continued to put pressure on Johnson but another bad break would haunt the Tigers, who were on the power play. A defensive zone giveaway led to Megdanis’ unassisted goal with 7:53 remaining in the second period.
“We executed well, except for a couple of plays,” Gallagher said.
The Tigers certainly executed on the game-tying goal in the third period. On the power play, Ridgefield’s Pat Rigby made a nice pass to Mike Conciatore, who skated into the New Canaan zone, to the left of Johnson (29 saves). Rigby then slid a perfect pass across the slot and Luke Welsh took the pass to the right of the goal and flicked it past a helpless Johnson with 8:25 remaining in regulation time.
It stayed that way until the game went to 4 on 4, when Mettler and Megdanis did their thing.
“Megdanis made an awesome pass and Mettler has grown so much this year,” Jones said. “They’re both still figuring out how to use it all. Last year Gunnar (Granito) had 40 percent of our points. This year it’s much more spread out.”
Yes, just like 4 on 4.