STAMFORD — With a 3-3 record to open the season, the numbers for the Ridgefield boys hockey team did not appear to add up for a program riding three straight conference titles.
“We had some tight ones early,” Tigers coach Shaun Gallagher said. “We took some really important lessons out of those wins. And our losses were to three very good teams. We are trying to learn from both wins and losses.”
Tonight’s tutorial was of the much less painful variety. Falling behind in the opening seconds against a Westhill/Stamford Co-Op with something to prove, the Tigers battled back, once relinquishing a lead but finishing with four straight goals — three with a man advantage — for a 6-2 win at Terry Conners Rink.
“The first period we were having trouble making basic passes,” Gallagher said. “Basic plays. Once the second period started we seemed to settle down and executed better. It was nice to see that response. You never know what to expect from high school kids when you get down early and then you go up, then they tie it. It was nice to see our guys respond multiple times.”
Luke Welsh finished with three goals for the Tigers, including the game-winner, coming just under nine minutes apart.
“In the beginning of the game we played sloppy in the defensive zone but toward the end we shut them out,” Welsh said. “It was definitely a shocker for our first line getting scored on that quickly. You never want that to happen. So it was good that we picked it up at the end.”
It was the first loss of the season for Westhill/Stamford (6-1-1), a Division II title contender anxious to prove it can play with the state’s top programs.
“Three power play goals against a team like that…you just can’t end up in the box,” Westhill/Stamford coach John Santagata said. “They’re smart and they capitalized on it.”
Eddie Zelikman scored with a quick shot 20 seconds in to give Westhill/Stamford a quick lead.
The Tigers killed off two power plays and then tied the game with seven seconds left in the period when Kees van Wees scored on a rebound. Will Stewart scored early in the second period to put Ridgefield ahead, 2-1.
Westhill/Stamford bounced back quickly, with Hunter Gilchrist tying the game at 5:22 of the second.
Welsh stepped up and scored a quick hat trick, finishing nice set-ups by Will Stewart and van Wees, who added Ridgefield’s penultimate goal and ended up with two assists.
“I think we moved the puck well,” Welsh said. “Coach talked to us in the locker room about making the 10-foot passes. We talked about that and improved upon it.”
The Tigers have a heavily back-loaded schedule, with games remaining against teams it will be contending with for both league and state titles.
“We’re looking for more complete games,” Gallagher said. “Having good starts, good middles, good finishes. That’s when we know we are going to be able to beat whatever team is in front of us.”
Westhill/Stamford will get another measuring-stick game next week against Darien.
“We skated with them the whole game,” Santagata said. “If you make mistakes against good teams they’re going to capitalize. We will keep moving forward. We’re not afraid of anybody. We have the speed and the talent and firepower. We’ll get back to work and move on. It’s still early.”