DANBURY — The Fairfield Prep hockey team has already toppled several strong squads en route to its now 8-0 start this winter. Wednesday’s visit to the Danbury Ice Arena was perhaps its most surprising tough test of the early season, though.
There the Jesuits encountered a New Fairfield-Immaculate squad eager to prove it belonged at the Division I level. NFI did more than that in nearly pulling off a stunning upset.
A power-play goal from Cole Casl broke a 1-1 tie midway through the third period, and an empty net goal gave the Jesuits a 3-1 win in a highly-competitive matchup for the Jesuits in their SCC-SWC league-opener.
“I thought we played OK. (NFI) was really disciplined and we found it hard to get our transition game going,” Prep coach Matt Sather said. “It was good to get a win. I think we can learn something from them in terms of the energy they brought.”
The Jesuits’ offense was slowed down significantly by an aggressive trap from the hosts.
“It was difficult, we really had to dig and a bunch of kids on our team did it well,” added Colin Bela, who scored twice for the visitors.
Seeds for an upset were planted with 13 minutes left when NFI junior Sam Mitchell potted a power play goal to tie the game at 1-1. NFI (4-1-1) then was awarded another man advantage and had several looks to take a shock lead, but the Jesuits survived the flurry.
Prep then drew a penalty of its own, and after substantial pressure Cole Casl fired a shot from the point that snuck past NFI goalie Scott Dobos and into the net to make it 2-1.
The Jesuits — who hadn’t visited Danbury since 2009 — controlled most of the final eight minutes, but NFI still had a pair of chances to send the game to overtime. Mitchell and Alex Hallahan — the latter with 15 seconds left — had quality shots that were stopped by Prep goalie Jack McGee.
“Most of the time we’re going to see their best,” Bella said. “I think most teams are going to try to beat us due to our track record, we have to keep our heads and come out strong.”
Bella — who opened the scoring with a goal off a rebound in front midway through the second — made it 3-1 with an empty-net goal with 3.6 seconds left.
“Obviously you don’t want to accept a loss, but sometimes a negative can be turned into a positive,” NFI coach Larry Vieira said. “I thought our footspeed and our intensity was good; Prep is an outstanding team and took advantage of a couple of our mistakes.”
Prep continued its excellent start in front of its own net; the Jesuits have yielded 11 goals in eight games against strong opposition.
“In order to prove you belong you have to consistently play these types of games,” Vieira said. “That’s the trick; it’s easy to get up for the No. 1 team in the state (Prep), but you have to get up for every game. We just have to get better.”