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Sunday, March 24 High School Sports

Ridgefield opens season with decisive win over Fairfield Prep

BRIDGEPORT — The preseason hype was that No. 1 Fairfield Prep and No. 2 Ridgefield were the CIAC’s two best hockey teams, or at least two of the best, but one was a little more battle-ready for Wednesday night’s opener.

The Tigers’ top line dominated, Sean Gordon made big saves and Ridgefield’s experience proved the hype right with a 5-2 win Wednesday night at the Wonderland of Ice.

“Sean played out of his mind, the best I’ve seen him play,” said Nick Cullinan, the left winger on that top line, who had a hat trick and added an assist.

“Everybody contributed, all four lines, all our (defense), and obviously Sean. A great start, but a long way to go.”

Cullinan’s short-handed goal completed the hat trick and gave the Tigers a 4-1 lead early in the second period. Will Forrest scored four minutes later, with Matt Walker’s second assist helping.

“We ended the year with them last year (a 4-1 Prep win in the state semifinals), so we were excited to come in this year,” Tigers coach Shaun Gallagher said. “We’ve got a group of kids that, whoever’s in front of them, they’re going to be excited to play them.”

Fairfield Prep, the defending Division I champion, got two goals from senior Colin Bella but lost too many battles for coach Matt Sather’s liking.

“You can’t give up second-chance opportunities, and you can’t win a game like that if you’re not going to create second-chance opportunities,” Sather said.

“And that’s what I saw. Ridgefield’s out there making that extra effort to get a second opportunity at a goal or fight through to deny us a second opportunity in their end, and our guys were kind of satisfied just going for one. But we’ve got a lot of guys who’ve never done this before.”

Jesuits defenseman Seamus Carolan was assessed a boarding major in the third period, one of four Prep penalties.

“We certainly have to compete better and do the dirty things along the boards to make the pretty things happen,” Sather said. “Today we didn’t do that very well, and we’ve got to stay out of the penalty box. That’s not who we are as a program, or who we’ve ever been.”

Bella tied the game at 1 after forcing a turnover in the Jesuits’ end to start a rush. But Forrest set up Cullinan on the rush 49 seconds later to give the Tigers a lead for good. Three minutes later, Ridgefield’s second line got the puck back after a shot went wide and set up Owen Luft to make it 3-1.

Gordon stopped Calyb Reeves and Bella in the final minute to keep it there.

“He made a rebound save in the first period, and our bench loved it,” Gallagher said. “It was a big momentum boost for us.”

PLAYER OF THE GAME

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Nick Cullinan scored three goals and tacked on an assist.

POWERLESS

If Ridgefield was sloppy anywhere, it was on the power play.

“It’s just, with practice, game time, we’ll get it hopefully where we want it to be,” Cullinan said. “We’ve got to keep working on it. It’s getting traffic in front, getting shots.”

Counting the major as two chances, since it was broken up by a Ridgefield interference minor, the Tigers were 0-for-5, and the major began with a 37-second two-man advantage.

“We certainly had enough (penalties) to kill,” Sather said. “We haven’t worked on 5-on-3 yet, so to see some of the veterans go out and remember what we did last year and execute that was nice to see.

“You know you’re doing something wrong when the penalty kill is the best part of your game. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

mfornabaio@ctpost.com; @fornabaioctp

RIDGEFIELD 5, FAIRFIELD PREP 2

RIDGEFIELD3 2 0—5

FAIRFIELD PREP1 1 0—2

Records: Ridgefield 1-0; Fairfield Prep 0-1. Goals: R—Nick Cullinan 3, Will Forrest, Owen Luft; FP—Colin Bella 2. Assists: R—Matt Walker 2, Cullinan, Forrest, Henry Garlick, Kees van Wees; FP—Calyb Reeves, Chandler Dumont, Connor Boyle. Goalies: R—Sean Gordon (24 saves); FP—Jake Walker (37). Shots: R—42; FP—26.

Michael Fornabaio|Sports Reporter

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