ROCKY HILL — It was one of those perfect days, from the result to the way Fairfield Prep’s hockey team achieved it, from the confidence that day built to the gregarious bus driver who kept them loose, cheering in the stands at Wesleyan.
That Wednesday, Jan. 23, in Middletown was a turning point for the Jesuits on the way to Tuesday night’s CIAC Division I boys hockey final at Ingalls Rink. They beat Xavier 3-1 on senior Jake Walker’s 34 saves.
“Their record was what it was at that time (3-8). Ours (3-6) was not that much better,” Jesuits coach Matt Sather said Thursday at the CIAC’s media day. “But you could tell those were two teams that were a lot better than their record was saying.
“I felt that was a good win, and we did it without our top line scoring. We did it with a great goaltending effort, some good defense and some secondary scoring. And we did it with four lines. It felt like, all right, these guys are starting to come together. There was some energy there.”
Calyb Reeves, who’s on the left side of that top line with fellow seniors Chandler DuMont and Colin Bella, felt it, too.
“Getting off the ice that game and having not scored in that game, it was a huge night,” Reeves said. “Some people might think we’d be upset, but it was a huge relief. We were really excited for the other guys.”
The Jesuits are 11-3-1 since that day, including a 5-2 win over Xavier this past Wednesday in the state semifinals to secure a meeting with rival Notre Dame-West Haven (13-9-1) in the championship game.
They’ve done it with their trademark depth, though it took a while to develop after most of the key players from last year’s state-champion team graduated.
“Something we preached at the beginning of the season was to close the gap between us,” senior defenseman Connor Boyle said. “With the loss of all the seniors from last year, it took a while to get used to everybody, all the new faces in the locker room.”
Walker has been their rock in net, developing his own game in his first year as a starter.
Four lines and four defense pairs play. They’ve reached a point where they’re confident that any line can contribute, whether offensively or defensively, on any given shift.
“You’re not — and I (also) feel this way watching Notre Dame play — you’re not waiting for that first line to get back on the ice,” Sather said.
This has been a group open to growth from the start, Sather said. The new and young players recognized that they had to get better, and they’ve worked toward it.
“That been really nice to be around, a group of guys that are just trying to be sponges,” Sather said. “Sometimes it works great, and it feels sometimes like beating your head against the wall, but when you have a new team like this, it’s nice to have kids who are sort of willing to grow, and they’ve really done that.”
The Jesuits and Green Knights split their two regular-season meetings, each winning a close one at home.
“Notre Dame-Prep is a big SCC rival game,” Boyle said. “We know they’re going to bring it, so we’re going to bring our best.”
Added Reeves, “I have no doubt in my mind that if we bring our speed, and our heart that we’ve played with this whole season, there’s no doubt in my mind we’ll come out on top.”