Entering the season, Fairfield Prep hockey coach Matt Sather was optimistic.
He had 16 returning players, including 12 seniors, from the previous season and the expectations were balanced scoring on offense and an exceptional defense led by goalie Jack McGee and defenseman Cole Casl.
“If we buy into the team concept and continue to improve throughout the year,” Sather said in early December, “we should be a tough team to beat in the tournament.”
The team bought into the team concept and certainly improved throughout the year. Not only were Jesuits tough to beat in the Division I boys hockey tournament, they were tough to beat throughout the season.
The Jesuits set the tone for the season during the Christmas vacation break. Prep defeated Franklin (Mass.) 3-2 in double overtime in the championship game of the prestigious Mount St. Charles Holiday Face-Off tournament in Rhode Island. The Jesuits then went on to defeat Notre Dame-West Haven 5-0 in the SCC/SWC Division I championship game on March 3 and defeated Greenwich 4-2 in the Division I final on Saturday.
Overall, Prep was a perfect 17-0 against state teams. As a result of its success, Fairfield Prep is a unanimous No. 1 selection in the season’s final Register Top 10 Hockey poll with 13 first place votes and 130 points. The preseason No. 1 pick, Fairfield Prep went wire-to-wire as the top-ranked hockey team.
Division I runner-up Greenwich finished No. 2 with 112 points. Ridgefield, the defending Division I which lost to Fairfield Prep in the semifinals, finished No. 3 with 108.
“I’m very surprised at how well we did against state competition,” Sather said. “Our in-state schedule was tough, and I knew we were going to be strong with 12 seniors on the roster, but I expected a few setbacks along the way.
“We were fortunate to stay very healthy during the regular season. The flu never went through our team and, once Carter Kral came back from his ankle injury sustained in the fall, we had no significant injury issues this year. To have a season like this, you need a lot of luck.”
The Jesuits, who finished the season 22-2-1 overall, dominated on offense with 11 players producing double-digit points. Kevin Oricoli led the way with eight goals and 21 assists along with Joe Mancini (14 goals, 13 assists), Ryan Eckert (11 goals, 15 assists) and Carter Kral (17 goals, eight assists).
Sather also points out that defense played its part in the team’s success.
“We had a lot of stability and contributions from our senior class,” Sather said. “It really seemed to be a different guy every night for us offensively. But I think our defense was the key. Cole (Casl) and Jack (McGee) set the tone, but Matt Kernaghan was another critical leader of our defensive group.”
Prep won its 17th CIAC state championship (16 in Division I, one Division II). But Sather, who took over the Prep team in 1998, set a personal milestone with his 10th title this season.
“While I am not concerned with my record as a coach, I fully appreciate how special this season was,” Sather said. “Winning the Mount St. Charles tournament, the SCC tournament and state tournament (the same season) is a mark few Prep teams have accomplished. But each team has a different character and I would hate to elevate one group above any other.”
Finishing the season No. 1 in the poll has its special place with Sather.
“It is always nice to be recognized by your peers and the media for your accomplishments,” Sather said. “The poll is a reminder of how many teams in Connecticut had tremendous seasons and how many players and coaches did special things this year.
“We are certainly proud to be on that list and congratulate the other teams for their excellent seasons.”
Final 2018 GameTimeCT / Register Top 10 Hockey