Fairfield Prep and Greenwich have been two of the most dominant hockey teams in the state this season, so it’s only fitting that these two powers will finally meet on Saturday.
The CIAC Division I final between the top-seeded Jesuits and second-seeded Cardinals is indeed, a matchup of unfamiliar foes.
Greenwich and Fairfield Prep are never on each other’s regular-season schedule and the squads haven’t played in the postseason since the Jesuits beat the Cardinals for the Division I title in 2000. That makes Saturday’s 2 p.m. championship game at Ingalls Rink in New Haven all the more interesting.
“It’s an intriguing offensive matchup,” Fairfield Prep coach Matt Sather said. “We are spread out a bit scoring-wise and they are led by a couple of big scorers. It should be an up-and-down game and I feel like both teams are going to move the puck well, which should create some excitement.”
Said GHS coach Chris Rurak: “I haven’t had a chance to look at them, but I am anticipating a lot more speed than we have seen. I am expecting to see the best team we have seen. They are the No.1-ranked team for a reason.”
The Jesuits and Cardinals have experienced different fortunes in the state tournament. Fairfield Prep is making its 21st appearance in the championship game and has 13 Division I titles to its ledger. Greenwich, meanwhile, has played in the title game five times, winning the championship in 1992 against Fairfield Prep.
The Cardinals’ last appearance in the Division I finals came when it was edged by Darien, 1-0, in 2015. Fairfield Prep was beaten by Darien in the state title game in 2016.
A 4-1 victory over Ridgefield in the Division I Tournament semifinals sent Fairfield Prep into Saturday’s finals.
Who will win the Division I hockey championship?
Fairfield Prep (21-2-1)
Total Response: 164 Votes
“I am extremely proud of our team for getting into the finals,” said Sather, who has led the Jesuits to nine state titles since taking over the helm in 1998. “This is a team that came together four years ago, so it’s been a long process with these guys. Five of our seniors were freshman on the varsity four years ago, so they have been building to this point.”
As the Jesuits (21-2-1) showed in the semifinals, they are led by a balanced scoring attack and a rock-solid goaltender. Senior Jack McGee made 27 saves, while seniors Ryan Eckert, Carter Kral and Joe Mancini, along with junior Calyb Reeves each had one goal in the winning effort against Ridgefield.
“Jack’s been sensational in goal, he won the game for us Wednesday,” Sather said. “He has probably been our most consistent player throughout the season.”
Mancini is Prep’s leading scorer with 14 goals and 13 assists on the season, eight other players have scored more than 20 points.
“We have had a different guy step up each game, it’s been sort of scoring by committee,” Sather said. “Our balance offensively gives us an opportunity to wear teams down. Each one of the lines we put out there can be a threat.”
The same could be said for Greenwich (22-3), which has plenty of depth up front and on the blue line. Trailing 2-0 against Xavier in the tournament’s semifinals, the Cardinals did not panic. Senior forward Matt Baugher tallied in the seconds period and senior forward/captain Alex Mozian sent the game into overtime by tallying with 1:19 remaining in the third period.
In overtime, junior forward Matt Davey scored the game winner at the 2:18 mark.
“Winning that game showed a lot about the leadership of our team and the confidence each player has in himself,” Rurak said. “With the talent and depth this team has, we never feel we are out of a game. Once we got to the third period, the momentum was in our favor.”
Mozian and sophomore forward Nikita Kovalev have each tallied more than 50 points, while Davey is one of several players that has raised his offensive output this season.
“The thing that catches me is how fast he is off the draw,” Rurak said of Davey. “He will track the puck down off the draw and he has great hands.”
Sophomore goaltender Ben Nash made 29 saves in the semifinal-round win against Xavier. Nash has flourished behind defensemen Nic Pelletier-Martinelli, Connor Santry, Ryan Columbo and Oliver Fulton.
“From what I have seen, Greenwich is similar to us,” Sather said. “They are very deep and they have multiple lines that can score. He (Mozian) is clearly a special player with a confident offensive game who is tough to knock off the puck.
We are going to need to contain their offensive players and we are going to have to win races to the loose pucks. Greenwich gets a lot of goals by winning battles in the corner, then getting the puck in front.”
Added Rurak: “I am assuming their power play is very good, so we have to stay out of the box. We have to get the puck out of the zone, get it deep and run our forecheck. At this phase of the game there is no secret recipe or strategy for success. We have to limit our mistakes and try to play a mistake-free game.”
Division I Championship
No. 1 FAIRFIELD PREP vs. No. 2 GREENWICH
When: Saturday, 2 p.m.
Where: Ingalls Rink, New Haven
Records: Fairfield Prep (21-2-1); Greenwich (22-3)
Championship game appearances: Fairfield Prep is making its 21st appearance with 13 Division I titles and one Division II title. Greenwich is making its fifth appearance with one title. Greenwich and Prep have met twice in the Division I final. Prep won 2-0 in 2000 and Greenwich won 3-2 in 1992.
What to look for: The Jesuits are the most complete team in the state this season and are a perfect 16-0 against state competition. Prep features 11 players with double-digit points, led by Kevin Oricoli (six goals, 20 assists) and Joe Mancini (14 goals, 13 assists). On defense, they are led by goalie Jack McGee (1.67 goals-against average) and coach Matt Sather calls defenseman Cole Casl (five goals, 19 assists) one of the state’s best two-way players. Since losing to Ridgefield in the FCIAC tournament, the Cardinals have dominated on both ends of the ice, outscoring opponents 11-2 in three Division I games. The Cardinals are led on defense by goalie Ben Nash and defensemen Nick Pelletier-Martinelli and Ryan Columbo. On offense, they are led by speedy forwards Alex Mozian, Charles Graves and Sean Pratley.
You should know: Fairfield Prep is 5-0 against FCIAC teams and Greenwich is 4-1 against SCC teams.