The Fairfield Prep boys hockey team is off to an impressive 5-0 start that includes coming off a 3-2 double overtime win over Franklin (Mass.) in the championship game of the Mount St. Charles Holiday tournament in Woonsocket, Rhode Island.
The Jesuits have been playing in the Mount St. Charles Holiday tournament since 2000 and won the title for the fourth time.
Coach Matt Sather, whose team started 2-2 last season, credits experience for the team’s strong start this season. The Jesuits return 16 players off last year’s roster, including 10 seniors. The Jesuits are balanced on offense with seven goal scorers back from last season.
“Experience has been key for us,” Sather said. “We have been playing good team defense and most of our guys understand our defensive priorities and can communicate them to the rookies. We were successful on the ice, for sure, in the Mount St. Charles tournament. But more importantly, it was an opportunity to get away, and come together as a team.
In the first round of the tournament, Devin Blanchette had the game-tying goal with 15 seconds left in the third period to send the game into OT for Prep. He scored the game-winning goal at 6:35 of OT for the Jesuits in a 3-2 win over Bishop Hendricken (R.I.).
Jack McGee had 37 saves for Prep. In the semifinals, Ryan Ecket and Mason Whitney scored goals in a 2-0 win over St. Joseph Collegiate (New York) and goalie Jake Walker had 22 saves for the shutout.
In the win over Franklin , Joe Mancini had the game-winning goal in the second overtime and McGee had 34 saves.
“Jack McGee and Jake Walker were great in net in the tournament,” Sather said. “Devin Blanchette had a big game in game one. Joe Mancini had a big game in game three (the final). Cole Casl and Matt Kernaghan were great on defense all week. Kevin Oricoli, Skyler Celotto and Ryan Eckert played really tough two-way hockey.
“I think anytime you compete for a trophy it helps push us down the road to our goals. We have three more trophies (championships) to play for this year, the Pope Francis tournament, SCC (SCC/SWC D-I) tournament, and state tournament (CIAC D-I). Each one will get more intense and important. We hope to compete for all of them.”
The Pope Francis Invitational Feb. 9-10 at the Olympia Ice Arena in West Springfield, Mass. Prep faces Delbarton (N.J.) at 8 p.m. and Pope Francis (Chicopee, Mass.) plays Bishop Hendricken (R.I.) at 6 p.m. in the semifinals on Feb. 9. On Feb. 10, the consolation game is at 10:30 a.m. and the final is at 12:30 p.m.
Neagle expects exciting season
Tom Neagle, chariman of the CIAC Ice Hockey Committee, said behind the scenes hockey fans can expect an uneventful season with no rules changes and the usual sites for CIAC tournament games. But if the early season is any indication, Neagle said fans can expect a very exciting finish with many teams in every division enjoying success.
“We (CIAC) continue to enjoy a great relationship with Ingalls Rink at Yale for our semifinals and finals,” Neagle said. “George Hall, our veteran tournament director, has reported that we will be back at Ingalls for the foreseeable future. There doesn’t seem to be much interest on the part of other rinks to host our playoffs.
“Early round games will be played in our local rinks. But ‘Making it to Yale’ has become the mantra of our high school hockey players.”
Neagle said there have been no significant rule changes this season.
“The emphasis continues to be on safety and sportsmanship,” Neagle said. “In the past, players were coached to ‘keep your head up’ for incoming hits. It was the offensive player’s responsibility to insure his safety. Now, the responsibility in this rule remains with the player approaching an opponent along the boards.
“Blind-side hits, hits to the head, late hits and fighting have all been eradicated from the game via good coaching and officiating. While old timers may not agree with these changes, ice hockey continues to be one of the fastest, physical, skillful and most exciting games to play or watch. Don’t believe me? Just go to a high school game and check it out.”
Neagle pointed out the early success Prep had in the Rhode Island tournament and the strong start by Hamden, Notre Dame-Fairfield and New Fairfield-Immaculate, a D-II school that is in D-I now with a 2-0-1 start.
“So many teams are having success, it’s great to see,” Neagle said. “Fairfield Prep looks like they could be the team to beat in Division I. But you can’t count out Notre Dame-West Haven or Hamden. Those programs always seem to know how to win, especially when the postseason rolls around in March. And there always seem to be one or two teams from the FCIAC that goes deep into the playoffs after a tough conference schedule.”