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Monday, March 19 Sports

Fairfield Prep ousts Hamden again

BRIDGEPORT -- The last time the Fairfield Prep ice hockey team lost to Hamden in the state playoffs, the Jesuits were watching the Green Dragons celebrate a state championship at Ingalls Rink in New Haven.

That was back in 2010, before any of the current Jesuits were even enrolled at Prep.

Since then, the rivalry between these two historic programs has done a complete 180-degree turn with Fairfield Prep making a habit of sending the Green Dragons home for the season.

The third-seeded Jesuits did it again Wednesday night, using solid goaltending in the second period by Matt Beck and a three-goal third period to post a 5-1 victory over No. 14 Hamden in the opening round of the Division I state tournament at the Wonderland of Ice.

Fairfield Prep (13-4-3), which will face No. 6 Glastonbury (16-5) Saturday in the quarterfinals, has won 11 straight games against Hamden dating back to January of 2011. The defending Division I champions have now eliminated the Green Dragons from the states in each of the last four seasons, including twice in the quarterfinals.

"I think it's at least five years in a row we've played them in the states," Fairfield Prep coach Matt Sather said. "It's always a good game."

This one was as well, despite what the final score might indicate.

Fairfield Prep took a 1-0 lead just 40 seconds into the game when sophomore Matt Overby scored on a wrist-shot from the point. Vincent D'Amore made it 2-0 early in the second with another long-range missile and Prep appeared to be on its way to an easy victory, holding down a 21-3 advantage in shots through 20 minutes of play.

But speedy Hamden freshman Jake Blackwell got behind a Prep defender with five minutes left in the second period and beat Beck with a nifty move to make it 2-1, turning the entire complexion of the game around. The Green Dragons (6-14-1) spent the next 13 minutes making Prep sweat, continuously getting behind the defense on odd-man breaks, forcing Beck to make a number of clutch 1-on-1 saves.

"They gave us all we could handle in the middle of that game," Sather said. "We had a six- or seven-minute stretch early in the second where it seemed like we had three good chances on every shift and we couldn't get one in. And then that (the Hamden goal) happened, and we got tight and started making some uncharacteristic mistakes."

Whatever tension was pumping through Fairfield Prep's veins got washed away when senior Dean Lockery swooped out of the right corner and beat Hamden junior Logan Cathey (24 saves) to make it 3-1 with 6:34 left in the third, a goal that all but sealed the victory.

"When Dean made that little move, I think everyone just sort of relaxed," Sather said.

Lockery's goal opened the floodgates as senior Kenny Kochiss made it 4-1 just 21 seconds later, then added another goal with 4:30 left to put the game well out of reach.

This entire season has been an emotional grind for the Jesuits, trying to replace a ton of talent while living up to last year's state championship team. It wasn't until Lockery scored that Prep was able to exhale.

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"Coach said when coal gets rubbed together it creates a diamond," said Lockery, who finished with a goal and two assists. "We fought the entire first and second period, just yelling at each other. Coach kept calling us out on it. He said, `you guys have to play calm.' When I made that play and buried that first goal (of the third), we just got so loose. We took over from there."

Beck only made 14 saves, but most of them came during Hamden's push over the final five minutes of the second period and the first eight of the third. Many of those were game-saving stops, including a breakway stop on Blackwell with 1:50 left in the second, a shot that produced a rebound and a wide-open net that was missed by Hamden's John Battick.

Beck also made three consecutive saves from close range just seconds before Lockery scored the back-breaker with seven minutes left.

"Matty Beck is a clutch goalie," Lockery said. "He's been playing since his freshman year and has been on two state championship teams, so he's a veteran. He always gets the job done and we have a lot of confidence in him."

Hamden thought it finally had the Jesuits figured out after Prep's 8-3 win last Saturday, but the Jesuits threw the Green Dragons a curveball, going back to their old offensive system for the start of the states.

"We had so many odd-man rushes and couldn't score," Hamden coach Bill Verneris said. "If we could have scored those goals I think we could have put a little fear in them. But when they got that third goal, it took all the wind out of our sails."

HAMDEN 0 1 0--1


Records: Hamden 6-14-1, Fairfield Prep 13-4-3. Goals: H--Jake Blackwell; FP--Kenny Kochiss 2, Dean Lockery, William Overby, Vincent D'Amore. Assists: H--Matt Barnett; FP--Lockery 2, Steve Bayles, Matt Ventricelli, Matt Wikman. Goalies: H--Logan Cathey (24 saves); FP--Matt Beck (14); Shots: H--15, FP--29.