DARIEN — One of the characteristics of a strong team is its ability to make adjustments following a tough loss.
New Canaan entered today’s matchup against FCIAC boys hockey rival Ridgefield intent on getting the puck deep and applying pressure — aspects it struggled a bit with in a defeat against Notre Dame-West Haven on Wednesday.
Tonight against Ridgefield the Rams put on quite a clinic in pressuring the puck and generating scoring chances.
Displaying an impressive forecheck, New Canaan set the tone early, scoring three first-period goals in posting a convincing 5-1 victory at the Darien Ice House.
The Rams (2-1), who dropped a 3-2 decision on the road to Notre Dame-West Haven, received goals from five different players.
“We were having trouble getting the puck in deep in a couple of other games and I think we started off the game strong and came out flying,” said New Canaan left wing Jack Eccleston. “When that puck stays deep it’s tough on opponents. We had a strong forecheck, so they had trouble taking it out of the zone.”
Eccleston also registered an assist for the Rams, who received 15 saves from sophomore goalie Beau Johnson and held a 3-0 lead after the first period.
“We went over some of the issues we had in the last game, which was similar to the first game,” said New Canaan coach Clark Jones, whose squad captured the FCIAC title in 2020. “The last game, we were out of sorts with our defensive positioning. When you start to clean that up, you can get out of your zone easier and you can start to create offensively. On top of that, we made pretty simple plays to get the puck deep and then we pressured the puck as well as we have pressured so far this year.”
Michael Rayher, Carter Ellis, Jack Johnson and Owen Zomb also tallied for New Canaan, which held a 33-17 shots-on-goal advantage.
“All the lines were producing really well,” Eccleston said. “They all had points on the board, everyone was flying out there. With everyone producing like that, it makes a game like this a lot easier.”
Defenseman Chris Hamilton scored Ridgefield’s goal.
“They’re a good team, they were the better team tonight,” Ridgefield coach Shaun Gallagher said. “They don’t have a lot of weaknesses and to have a strong goalkeeper to hold it down back there when we did get chances … that’s going to be a tough team to beat for anyone.”
Just nine seconds after killing a Tiger power play, the Rams seized a 1-0 lead. Gathering the puck off a pass from Eccleston, Rayher finished in front off a strong rush up the ice with 4:56 to go in the first period.
Eccleston tallied off a one-timer off a feed from senior Griffin Deane, making it 2-0 at 11:53 of the opening period. It didn’t take the Rams long to increase their lead — eight seconds to be exact. Following the ensuing faceoff, Ellis put a snap shot by Tigers goalie Matt Silliman.
“Getting those goals was a momentum-changer for the game,” Eccleston said. “That set the tone.”
Gallagher knew his squad had to impose its will more in the opening period.
“We have to become more physical in order to engage more fully into the game,” Gallagher said. “The first period there was a little bit of gliding around. Our guys were going through the process of feeling out what the other team is going to be like, instead of just getting going. That is a symptom of having a young team, so it’s just a matter of learning the lessons and getting better.”
Ridgfield fell into a 4-0 hole when Johnson knocked the puck home off a rebound on a shot from Gavin Reid just 1:31 into the second period. The Tigers cut the Rams’ advantage to 4-1 on Hamilton’s power play goal from the point. He was set up on the play by passes from Will Stewart and Eric Pereira. Defenseman Ryan Tullo also effectively screened Johnson on the play.
“After they scored those three early goals, we had to calm down and keep our heads in the game,” Hamilton said. “We have a lot of young guys but I think they are going to make a big impact this year and I’m excited.”
Zomb sealed the game’s scoring, tallying in off an odd-man rush, putting the Rams ahead by a 5-1 margin. Sophomore Shane Mettler and senior Matt Panella paced New Canaan’s solid defensive effort.
“We talked a lot about our gap and how much room we’re giving the other team to work with, and our gap was fantastic tonight,” Jones said. “All six defensemen played well, but our forwards did too. We pressured on the back really well and you take away time and space like that it’s really hard to play against that type of pressure. As far as putting together a complete game, this was by far, our best effort.”