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Tuesday, December 18 High School Sports

Fairfield Prep hockey overcomes ND-Fairfield

WEST HAVEN — For a few minutes after the game, Notre Dame-Fairfield coach John Longo sat alone in the stands while his team packed up its equipment bags for the last time this season.

You know that saying, the third time’s the charm? Well, for the Lancers it nearly was.

Fairfield Prep, the top team in the state, had somehow survived, beating Notre Dame 4-3 on Sunday at the Bennett Rink and advancing to the semifinals of the Division I tournament. Notre Dame-Fairfield was going home and that was something the first-year coach was having a hard time dealing with.

“I’m so proud of this team,” Longo said, the emotion welling in his voice. “We knew that for us, even to have a chance at winning, we had to bring an effort that most, if not all teams, have yet to bring against them. We had a plan and every single kid committed to that plan tonight.”

Prep will meet Ridgefield, a 7-0 winner over Darien, in the semifinals on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at Yale’s Ingalls Rink in New Haven.

The two regular-season matchups between the schools were both one-sided affairs in favor of the Jesuits, who won 9-3 and 8-2. But this third one went right to the wire. Down 2-0, the Lancers rallied for three unanswered goals, before Prep got the tying goal from Devin Blanchette with 9:14 left in the third period and the tie-breaker from Joe Mancini with 4:17 to play.

“We’ve been in that spot before a few times this year, so the mood was,’OK, we can still do this.’ ” Prep coach Matt Sather said of the Jesuits’ rally. “But, I also think the sense of urgency started to build a bit, which helped us. I think it was a motivating moment.”

Blanchette scored on the power play to pull Prep even. Then Mancini made the play of the game, using his glove to collect a long centering pass from Cole Casl and beating ND-Fairfield goaltender Kacy Adams on a breakaway.

“That was a hell of a play by him,” Casl said. “He’s a hell of a baseball player and he really showed it right there.”

Sather agreed.

“He’s a baseball player, so you know he can catch,” Sather said. “Cole saw him and put the puck in the right spot. I’m not sure that’s the way you draw it up, but that was a big play in a big spot.”

The Jesuits jumped on the Lancers on the opening shift, needing just 28 seconds to take the lead as Calyb Reeves, who had three goals and five points in Wednesday’s 8-0 win over East Catholic, took a feed between the circles and beat Adams between the pads to put Prep in front 1-0.

Things got a little rough with just over four minutes left in the period when Prep’s Colin Bella rode ND-Fairfield’s Anthony Bouvier into the boards and was sent to the locker room with a five-minute major for boarding and a game misconduct.

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What hurt the Lancers early on was their inability to get anything going on offense. That five-minute boarding major? Not only did Notre Dame fail to score, but they didn’t manage a shot on goal as the Jesuits defense stood tall, allowing just five first-period shots.

Prep made it 2-0 at the 2:38 mark in the second when Mancini beat Adams over the glove from the right circle. But the Lancers answered the call when Chris Becker beat Prep goalie Jack McGee with a wrister between the circles at 5:17 to cut the deficit to 2-1.

And seven minutes later, the game was even at 2-2 as Becker, off a scramble in front of the net, found the puck on his stick and he buried it behind McGee at 12:40.

“When we play physical, we play very well, but I think we were a lot more disciplined, especially within the system,” Longo said. “We knew there would be emotional ups and downs and we had to be prepared for that.”

Bouvier stuffed home a rebound at the 3:40 mark of the third period to put ND in front, but Prep’s senior leadership — they have 12 on the roster — proved to be the difference.

“When we were tied, you could see in the seniors that they weren’t going to lose this game,” Casl said. “Some of us have been here four years and we didn’t want to be the first Prep team to not win a state championship.”

PLAYER OF THE GAME

Joe Mancini. The Prep forward scored two goals, including the game-winner on a breakaway with 4:17 to play, to rally the Jesuits to the win.

QUOTABLE

“We did everything we could to try and slow them down coming through the neutral zone, just being aware out there and we battled right to the end, no one ever quit. We were very well prepared, we committed to the plan and to each other.” — ND-Fairfield coach John Longo

celsberry@ctpost.com

FAIRFIELD PREP 4, ND-FAIRFIELD 3

ND-FAIRFIELD 0 2 1—3

FAIRFIELD PREP 1 1 2—4

Goals: ND-F—Becker 2, Anthony Bouvier; FP —Calyb Reeves, Devin Blanchette, Joe Mancini 2

Assists: ND-F—Thomas Kuryla 2, Kris Shkreli, Becker, Jason Ziegler; FP—Skyler Celotto, Colin Bella, Ryan Eckert, Anthony Clericuzio, Cole Casl 2.

Goalies: ND-F—Kacy Adams (30 saves); FP — Jack McGee (19).

Shots: ND-F—22; FP—34

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