It’s always exciting for high school athletes to go outside their normal environment and play a regular-season game in a high-profile venue.
The Notre Dame-Fairfield hockey teams, both loaded with players from the New Haven area, will be experiencing that rare high-profile opportunity on Thursday at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, home of the Sound Tigers of the American Hockey League.
The No. 7 Notre Dame-Fairfield boys (3-2) will face defending Division I state champion and No. 3-ranked Fairfield Prep at 7 p.m. Kicking off the doubleheader will be the girls’ matchup against Lauralton Hall at 4:45 p.m.
“Playing at a venue like Webster Bank Arena adds additional excitement to the game, and for Connecticut high school hockey in general,” said Lancers boys coach Steve Hetherman. “Sure, every player likes to play at different rinks, but especially those rinks that host pro teams. It makes for a memorable experience for everyone involved.
“Regarding the larger ice surface at WBA, the players must be mindful of it and that may mean adjustments.”
The event is the brainchild of James Olayos, director of athletic advancement at Notre Dame-Fairfield and former longtime athletic director at St. Joseph.
“I organized several high school events at Webster Bank Arena when I was at St. Joseph and have a good relationship with (Sound Tigers president) Howard Saffan,” Olayos said. “When I came to ND, we talked about doing several events at the arena. The hockey doubleheader will be a springboard to more events.”
A Notre Dame-Fairfield boys and girls basketball doubleheader against Bunnell will be held at Webster Bank Arena on Jan. 27 beginning with the girls game at 5:30 p.m. On Feb. 22, the boys hockey team returns to Webster Bank Arena to play No. 4 Darien at 1 p.m.
Advance tickets for Thursday’s hockey doubleheader are available at Notre Dame-Fairfield for $8 and tickets at the door will be $10. For more information, ticket reservations and payment information, email Olayos at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The strength of the Lancers’ boys hockey team is its experience (13 seniors) and depth. Among the many top players are forwards Christian La Croix of North Branford, Dan Walsh of Milford and goalie Justin Krochko of Milford.
Prep (3-2-1) is coming off a 4-4 tie with No. 1 Notre Dame-West Haven on Saturday and has depth front to back.
Among the top players are forward Dean Lockery of New Haven, forwards Matt Wikman and Ken Kochiss and three alternating goalies who have all started — Matt Beck, Chris Gutierrez and Jack Taubl.
“I think the kids get excited for anything that is new or different, and any time you get to play against a cross-town rival there is a little more on the line,” Fairfield Prep coach Matt Sather said.
“When we played there last year, the biggest adjustment was the really live dasher boards and the really warm temperature. Most high school rinks are very cold, and Webster is pretty warm, so there can be some fatigue.”
ND Girls Excited To Play At Webster
“We are so excited to be playing at WBA against our biggest rival, Lauralton Hall,” Notre Dame-Fairfield girls coach Kerri Rowland said. “We always play our best against Lauralton, but being at WBA with a bigger crowd, it will be a lot of fun for both teams.
“We’re grateful for the opportunity to play at WBA and we are planning to be at our best. We hope to turn our many one-goal games into a victory.”
Among the top players for the Lancers are goalie Brooke Bonetti and forwards Bailey Brown, Emily Rowland, Gabby Vitelli and Delaney O’Keefe, all from Milford. Lauralton Hall’s star is forward Bridget Stackpole, who excels on both ends of the ice.
Reception Held During Webster Event
While Thursday’s doubleheader is being played at Webster Bank Arena, the Lancers will be hosting a reception at the Arena Harbor Club starting at 5 p.m. The cost of the reception is $25 per person and will include a game ticket, appetizers and soft drinks with a cash bar available.
“This reception is a chance for folks to come out and meet old friends and teammates and support Lancers hockey,” Olayos said.
Dan Nowak can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Dan on Twitter @NHRDanNowak.