Fairfield Prep was not the first boys hockey team to get the call that ended its season. It will, hopefully, be the last, though it would be no surprise for those calls to continue in the spring.
Fairfield Prep played Notre Dame-Fairfield in the SCC/SWC conference semifinals on Tuesday. Multiple Lancers have since tested positive for COVID-19.
Contact tracing led to the cancellation of Friday’s SCC/SWC championship game between the top two teams in the GameTimeCT Top 10, the No. 1 Jesuits (11-1-1) and No. 2 Notre Dame-West Haven (11-2-1). The SCC declared them co-champions.
“Sports has been part of a return to normalcy for most of us. When the reality of the world we’re living in pops up, it’s tough,” Jesuits coach Matt Sather said. “We’re not the first team sidelined for contact tracing. A lot of teams know exactly what we’re going through.”
Over 20 teams in the conference were sidelined at some point, SCC commissioner Al Carbone said. This time stands out for scotching a championship game, but it could’ve been Game 1, he said.
“We knew we were going to have starts and possibly stops. It’s beyond our control,” Carbone said. “Every single day I’d pick up the phone and wonder what was going to be next. It’s been a challenge, especially the ice hockey season.”
Friday's SCC/SWC Div. 1 boys ice hockey championship game between @FPrepAthletics and @NDWHAthletics will be not be played due a Covid-19 quarantine that resulted from positive cases on Prep's semifinal opponent.
Prep and NDWH will be declared Div. 1 co-champions. #cthk
— Al Carbone (@SCCcommissioner) March 26, 2021
Once the tests come in, Sather said, it becomes a health-department, CDC-guidelines and state-rules issue.
With only two days left in the winter season, there is no room to play the game at a later date. Other teams have faced similar calls; Hand, the No. 10 team in the poll, was one of several teams that had to pull out of the Division II tournament before playing, with those teams’ opponents getting walkovers to the next round. (The same thing happened in two NCAA men’s hockey tournament games.)
Notre Dame-West Haven coach Larry Vieira said the Green Knights got the word around 8 p.m. Thursday. There’s no blame, Vieira said, but not being able to compete and not having closure are rough.
“Win or lose, the locker room prior and the locker room after are a very important part of what the kids go through, and coaching,” Vieira said. “Two years in a row, we haven’t had that opportunity.”
There will be no winter CIAC champions for the second year in a row; last year’s hockey tournament ended after one day of play in Divisions II and III, on the day the Division I tournament was to start.
There was brief chatter about independently completing the CIAC tournament last year, but the state mostly shut down for two months to preclude that. Carbone said he heard talk about the teams playing this game in two weeks. Sather did not see that happening.
“It’s not permissible,” Carbone said. “It violates the season limits of the sport. There’s legal impact. The league’s not a part of it. It’s out-of-season for the coaches.”
Vieira said he appreciated the work of the CIAC, the league and the school to let them play all year, and he respected the decision to make the teams co-champions.
“Obviously as adults we realize there are greater tragedies,” Vieira said.
He said the team’s focus was celebrating what the group has done: making a surprising state-final appearance in 2019, earning the top seed in the 2020 CIAC tournament and having a chance at No. 1 in the poll this year.
That honor probably would’ve gone to Friday’s winner. It’s a more open question now.
“It’s a tough situation,” Sather said. “I just feel we had a pretty good year all things considered. I hope our seniors feel the same way.”