WEST HAVEN — The door to another Division I boys hockey championship opened wide for the defending champion on Saturday afternoon. If Saturday night’s quarterfinal game is any indication, Fairfield Prep is prepared to charge through it.
After two of the top three seeds in the tournament lost in the afternoon — one of them right in front of the Jesuits before their own game — fifth-seeded Fairfield Prep shut down Notre Dame-Fairfield in a 4-0 win at Bennett Rink.
The Jesuits allowed the Lancers just 13 shots, and Jake Walker stopped them all. They took 43 of their own.
“In practice, we worked a lot on the forecheck. We studied film on their forecheck,” said Jesuits senior Colin Bella, who scored a goal and had two assists.
“We were really excited for this one, and we executed to our team plan.”
The Jesuits (13-9-1) advance to Wednesday’s semifinals, at either 5:30 or 7:30 p.m., at Yale’s Ingalls Rink.
They’ll face eighth-seeded, eighth-ranked Xavier (10-10-2), which upset unbeaten top seed Ridgefield in overtime earlier Saturday at Bennett Rink. The Jesuits, ranked third in the GameTimeCT.com poll, beat Xavier 3-1 in the regular season.
“The pace of that game’s going to be a lot different from this one, but I thought (Notre Dame goalie Kacy) Adams was tremendous,” Jesuits coach Matt Sather said. “Adams is one of the best goalies in the state. You saw, in my opinion, the two best goalies in the state go at it tonight.”
Notre Dame, the 13th seed, finishes 9-13. And after he made 37 saves to upset fourth-seeded Hamden 1-0 on Tuesday, Adams made 39 Saturday.
“That’s a good team, and we knew they were a good team,” Notre Dame interim coach Bill Garfield said.
“We are a thin team, numbers-wise. We lost two guys last game, made us thinner. They gave all they had. We got a great performance from Kacy in net.”
The other semifinal will pit second-seeded, fourth-ranked Northwest Catholic (20-2-1) against sixth-seeded Notre Dame-West Haven (12-9-1), which knocked off third-seeded, second-ranked Darien.
The Jesuits’ team defense limited chances and kept the Lancers from generating much on the rush.
“This year, (defensemen) Peter DiDomenico, Cooper Eckert, Evan Farrugio have sort of been the underdogs,” Walker said. “Our whole defense, after losing a lot last year, has really come together as a group.”
There were perhaps a couple of big stops he had to make, like denying Brian Essing with his right shoulder after the Lancers forced a turnover when the game was scoreless. But the Jesuits didn’t allow much else.
“You can’t play, defensively, much better than that. Jake was good again,” Sather said. “I thought we did a good job executing our game plan against them. We knew, the third time you play a team, you know roughly what they’re going to do. The guys listened. We made some adjustments just for this game, and it’s good to see, this time of year, we can do that.”
The Jesuits got on top early. Bella came up the left wing and fired a shot under Adams’ blocker to make it 1-0 at 5:32.
“We saw that (Adams) was a lot stronger up top, and if you see all four of our goals, we went below his hands,” Bella said.
Not quite five minutes later, it was 2-0 on a passing play from Calyb Reeves up high to Bella on the right side to Chandler DuMont for the goal.
The Jesuits kept the pressure up throughout the second, but the Lancers and Adams kept it tight until Lukas Baksay and Connor Boyle scored in the third period.
“It’s always hard to say goodbye to kids, but it’s a great group, the five (seniors),” Garfield said. “The leadership of Nate (Stiles) and Justin (LaSella) was great, and the play of Kacy, he was excellent all year. His being first-team all-league shows it. It’s tough to be first-team with a losing record, and he was.”