A potential preview of the Division I state championship game takes place Saturday as the top two teams in the state — No. 1 Notre Dame-West Haven and No. 2 Fairfield Prep — face off at 1 p.m. at the Bridgeport Wonderland of Ice.
The teams mirror each other and boast some of the top talent in the state.
“Of course we’re excited about playing this game,” Prep coach Matt Sather said. “Any time we play Notre Dame there is a little extra involved no matter what the rankings say. With so many new players this season, we hope our team can rise to the occasion.”
Both teams alternate talented goalies, all of which are capable of starting for any team in the state.
Prep (3-2) actually has three goalies with Matt Beck, Chris Gutierrez and Jack Taubl, and all three have started a game already. Beck is 1-1 and has allowed six goals, Gutierrez is 1-1 (one goal) and Taubl is 1-0 (two goals). Among the top scorers are forwards Dean Lockery of New Haven (three goals, four assists) and Matt Wikman (five goals, one assist). Steven Bayles, Bryan Connell and Brendan Killoy lead a young, but talented group of defensemen.
The Jesuits are coming off an impressive stint at the prestigious Mount St. Charles Christmas Tournament in Woonsocket, R.I. The Jesuits went 2-1 at the tournament and had an impressive 4-0 win over host Mount St. Charles.
“We did not win the Mount St. Charles tournament, but we did play well in the final two tournament games,” Sather said. “We are starting to learn what it takes to compete, but we still have a long way to go. Given ND’s great start, I would put the momentum in their corner this time.
“The key to beating ND is to be as competitive as we can be. We have to be the faster, more aggressive team and that’s never easy. It will be interesting to see how our young guys handle a big moment. I feel we always have a little advantage at Wonderland, but as Darien (1-0 loss) showed us, home ice is not everything.”
The Green Knights have also performed well in a tournament this season, defeating Glastonbury 5-1 in the championship game of the West Haven Christmas Tournament to win that title for the third straight year.
“Winning the West Haven Christmas Tournament was definitely important to us as a unit,” first-year Notre Dame coach Tim Belcher said. “We wanted to show that we could be successful in a playoff-type atmosphere. It was also three wins against some good competition.
“I think the fact that our game with Prep is a No. 1 vs. No. 2 game plays into the hype for the fans and the members of each high school. For the players and coaches, it is just another very big game on our schedule and it happens to be against an SCC rival. When you only play 20 regular-season games, each and every one of them is big.”
The Green Knights (5-1) are led by forwards Matt Dumas — who had a hat trick in the West Haven tourney title game — brothers Kyle and Ryan Lynch, Eric Austin, Alec Andreucci and Casey Hoban. Among the top defensemen are Jimmy Davins, Patrick Francis, Colin O’Connor and Paddy Connors. The Green Knights alternate goalies Wade Conlan (3-0) and Justin Daddio (2-1).
“To be successful against a team like Prep, we have to be able to win the little battles,” Belcher said. “We have to win faceoffs in the defensive zone, our forwards have to block shots from their defensemen and, when we have an opportunity, we have to bury offensive scoring chances. You will not beat them by playing at any level below 100 percent for the entire 45 minutes.
“I think playing at their arena will give them a slight edge, but I think our fans will come out in big numbers. I am looking forward to it.”