Tonight we find out who the four teams fighting for the illustrious Division I title at Ingalls next week will be. Can Ridgefield continue their perfection? Will NDF's cinderella ride continue? Will Prep do what they've done forever? Can Northwest Catholic gain some northern respect? Will Darien finally get over the Ridgefield hump if given the chance? Over the next week many of these questions will be answered. For now, let's just take a look at the matchups!
(8) Xavier (9-10-2) vs. (1) Ridgefield (20-0)
4:00 Bennett Rink
Ridgefield's quest for perfection lands them at the precipice of Ingalls Rink. For them to punch their ticket, they have to get through a tough 8-seed in the Xavier Falcons. Xavier just creamed 9-seed West Haven 9-1 in the first round and lost to Ridgefield 4-1 back before the Falcons really got going. Xavier is looking to reach Ingalls for back to back seasons. The Falcons fell in the DI semifinals last year to Greenwich, 3-2 in overtime. In their opener, senior Trevor Earley collected three goals and two assists. Senior Chase Maxwell continued to play stellar hockey, notching two goals and two assists of his own while sophomore Nick LeClaire added a goal and four helpers and junior JJ Ford contributed a goal and an assist in the lopsided win. Ridgefield received a bye but is coming off their third straight FCIAC title. Senior Nick Cullinan is the state's best player and was just announced the @IPHHockey/@CTHSHockey DI Skater of the Year. Cullinan collected 38 goals and 25 assists this year. His linemates of seniors Will Forrest (19 G, 29 A) and Matt Walker (17 G, 19 A) can steal the show on any given night. Fellow senior Henry Garlick (8 G, 11 A) and junior Kees van Wees (16 G, 18 A) put together excellent seasons as well. On the blue line, Ridgefield is led by senior Simon van Wees (2 G, 21 A). But he's not alone, more than a few Tigers contribute to what's been a lock down group in front of senior netminder Sean Gordon (1.20 GAA, .935 save %) all year. Gordon won the @IPHHockey/@CTHSHockey DI Goalie of the Year award this season. Xavier has shown spurts where they can simply play with anyone. We witnessed it first hand where they tied a really talented LaSalle Academy (RI) group. If Xavier plays a perfect game and their studs are studly, this one could be close. Ridgefield has been off for a bit so rust could come into play early. I think Ridgefield takes this one, but there are few teams who can pick em up and put em down as well as Xavier does.
(13) Notre Dame-Fairfield (8-12) vs. (5) Fairfield Prep (12-8-1)
7:00 Bennett Rink
13-seed ND-Fairfield has pulled off the biggest first round upset, taking down 4-seed Hamden on the road 1-0. While it is indeed an upset, it's not super shocking. NDF has battled with many teams this year and Hamden's been as inconsistent as any. Senior Kacy Adams, my DI Goalie of Year vote, was other worldly in this one stopping all 37 shots the Dragons could muster. Sophomore Brian Essing scored the game's only goal in the closing minutes and the Lancers held on. Their reward? Another date with the mighty Jesuits of Fairfield Prep. Prep won both meetings this regular season, 5-2 and 3-1 and have absolutely owned the head to head series of late. Prep and NDF met at Bennett in the quarters last year and the Jesuits came away with a close 4-3 win. In their 7-1 first round win over 12-seed Simsbury, Prep got out to a fast start and never looked back. Senior Chandler Dumont finished with two goals and an assist. Fellow senior Colin Bella added a goal and three assists while senior Peter DiDomenico collected a goal and an assist in the win. Fairfield Prep is looking to make their 8th trip to the semifinals since 2010. Notre Dame-Fairfield hasn't made it to the state semifinals since they were a 1-seed in the 2014 tourney and fell to 4-seed Darien in the semis. Double-digit seeds are only 2-7 since 2010 in quarterfinal matchups. 13-seed Hamden beat 5-seed Greenwich 3-2 in OT in 2016 and 16-seed Darien beat 8-seed Tri-Town 6-0 in the 2010 quarters. Bottom line, no one wants to meet up with Prep in the tourney and based on predictions, no one had NDF getting to where they are. However, I don't think Garfield's boys are doing the whole "happy to be here thing." With Adams in net and cast of unsung players believing they can do this, I think NDF keeps this one close, for a while. I still have Prep taking this one.
(7) New Canaan (14-6-1) vs. (2) Northwest Catholic (17-2-1)
1:00 Northford Ice Pavilion
Northwest Catholic has to feel like a forgotten child this year. Obviously, Ridgefield is the top story but it seems like the Lions really haven't gotten their due. After all, they won 17 games, the CCC North and only own losses to Xavier and NDF, two quarterfinalists still with a pulse. They run into a really good New Canaan team here, a Rams group who fell 3-2 in overtime to NWC in their only meeting this year. This is an even matchup. In net you have two unheralded goalies in Dylan Shane and Mike Kaliff. Both guys have had great years rather under the radar. NWC, coming off a bye, relied on the stellar play of junior Brennan Horn (19 G, 22 A) all year but he wasn't alone. Fellow junior Nathan Loitz (13 G, 18 A) really had a breakout season while sophomore Connor Melanson (10 G, 12 A) certainly turned it on once he got back from injury. Senior Colby Tuttle (11 G, 11 A) and junior Luke Gfeller (8 G, 12 A) can also be counted on to light the lamp. The Macary's, senior Sean and sophomore Griffin are solid gold on the back end as well in front of the aforementioned Kaliff. New Canaan had a fight on their hands in the opening round win, 2-1 in overtime, over 10-seed and rival Greenwich. The Rams' senior Brendan Knightly scored with 11 seconds left in regulation to force the extra frame where senior Gunnar Granito made quick work of the Cardinals scoring 23 seconds into overtime to seal it for the Rams. Junior Justin Wietfeldt had assists on both goals and senior goalie Dylan Shane stopped 19 in that one. These two met up in the 2017 semis, a game that NWC won to move on to the finals. I feel like we have such an even matchup here, it's almost too close to call. This one should be a dandy.
(6) Notre Dame-West Haven (11-9-1) vs. (3) Darien (17-4)
4:00 Wonderland of Ice
It's not a mystery that NDWH has had a hard time keeping the puck out against Darien this year. The Blue Wave have scored 13 goals against the Knights and while NDWH has tried to keep up they fell both times, 6-4 & 7-3. It's hard to beat the same team three times in a year. That's the old adage right? NDWH is coming in off a gritty 6-3 win over an inspired 11-seed Fairfield Co-op. Darien stepped on the moving walkway and coasted past 14-seed St. Joseph, 10-0. In that win, senior Henri Pfeifle had 10 saves, probably the easiest shutout he'll ever record. Sophomore Sam Erickson had two goals and two assists and sophomore Teddy Dyer had a goal and two assists while senior Blake Swiggett, senior CJ Hathaway, senior Brian Zaffino, senior John Reid and sophomore Jamison Moore all collected a goal and an assist in the win. While I don't know if the spread of offense will continue against stouter opponents, it's impressive nonetheless. NDWH sophomore John D'Errico collected four points in their win over Fairfield, scoring once and assisting on three others. Senior Ian Hayden scored twice while sophomores John-Michael Childs and Charlie and Rory Andriole all scored once in the win. Sophomore netminder Connor Smith stopped an impressive 40 shots. Darien has clearly handled NDWH with relative ease this year. I think they win this one too, but it'll be close. Darien is one of the true threats to Ridgefield this year and I think they live long enough to get close to meeting them again.