(6) Notre Dame-West Haven (13-9-1) vs. (5) Fairfield Prep (14-8-1)
March 19, 7:00, Ingalls Rink
Well, this is fun. A SCC rivalry to end the Holy War. These two teams are synonymous with high school hockey in Connecticut. In this one you have Fairfield Prep's Matt Sather behind the bench for his 20th year with the Jesuits. You also have famed long-time head coach in his first year with the Green Knights in Larry Vieira. These two coaches are among the all-time leaders in wins and couldn't be more different.
The similarities in this one are based in expectation. Notre Dame-West Haven wasn't supposed to be good. The graduated or lost early to prep school 65% of their offense from a year ago and returned only six varsity skaters. Fairfield Prep lost 13 players off of their state championship team and got out of the gates super slow, starting the year 1-4. This had many doubting that the Jesuits had the chops to make a return run. But, here we are.
The Jesuits and Green Knights met up twice this year, splitting two really good games. In the first installment, NDWH sophomore John-Michael Childs found the back of the net shortly into overtime to give the Knights the win, 3-2 at Bennett. Sophomore John D'Errico had a penalty shot goal in this one and an assist while Prep senior Colin Bella scored both Jesuit goals. This game may have been the coming out party for NDWH sophomore netminder Connor Smith who was outstanding, stopping 32 Jesuit shots. Prep senior goalie Jake Walker was strong as well, stopping 28.
In their second meeting, Prep returned the favor topping NDWH 3-1 at the Wonderland in mid February. In that win, Bella and fellow Prep senior Chandler Dumont both had a goal and an assist. Walker stopped 23-of-24 in that one while NDWH junior Nick Piselli was strong in net stopping 35 for the Knights. Senior Ian Hayden had the lone NDWH goal in the defeat.
The year was a weird one for NDWH. The first part of their season saw them go 4-0 against non-FCIAC teams, including overtime wins over Hamden and Prep. On the flip side, they went 0-3 against New Canaan, Ridgefield and Darien. Then, they lost to DII Amity, which started a 7-game span where they'd only win two games. The Green Knights finished strong, however, winning four-of-six.
To get to today, NDWH took down 11-seed Fairfield Co-op 6-3 in their tourney opener, shocked the state by beating 3-seed Darien 3-1 in the quarters and came from behind to beat 2-seed Northwest Catholic in the semifinals 3-2. With under 10 minutes to play, NDWH trailed NWC 2-1. Then senior Mike Card made himself a household name. Card scored twice in five seconds to give NDWH a lead they would not relinquish. Smith finished with 28 saves and Hayden collected the other NDWH goal in the win.
Prep's ride has been well chronicled and wasn't without struggle. When you graduate what they did, it's inevitable. But now, they're right back in that familiar position of being the favorite at Ingalls. Prep was 4-6 through ten games playing a heavy out-of-state schedule and a challenging in state schedule, as always. Prep went 7-2-1 over their final ten and clinched the top spot in the SCC/SWC DI Championship. There, they fell 1-0 in a tight one to Hamden but shrugged it off and headed into tourney play hot.
Prep was hardly touched their first two games, taking down 12-seed Simsbury 7-1 in their opener and 13-seed ND-Fairfield 4-0 in the quarters. In the semis, Prep was handed a rising 8-seed Xavier who was coming in hot off an upset win over top-seed Ridgefield. Prep took care of Xavier with relative ease, 5-2. In that game the Jesuits jumped out to a first period 4-0 lead and never looked back. Walker was outstanding in a game where his efforts may go unnoticed. The senior stopped 31 in the win. Freshman Aksel Sather had his biggest game of his young career, scoring twice in the victory, while while seniors Calyb Reeves and Anthony Clericuzio and junior Jack Esse collected goals as well.
The win over Xavier puts Prep in their 12th championship game since 2000 and 22nd overall. Prep has won 17 of their previous 21 appearances in the championship and they're looking to repeat for the 7th time in their history. Notre Dame-West Haven arrives in their first final since 2013 when they fell to Fairfield Prep 3-2. Their last championship came a year prior when they beat Glastonbury 5-0. This will be NDWH's 18th championship game appearance, though their success once getting there hasn't been as impressive as Prep's. NDWH is 7-10 in championship games over their history.
I'm not really sure where to go with this one. Prep is the favorite, there is no doubt about that. What Vieira has done in his first year, however, with the bare cabinet he was given should be commended. NDWH's talented sophomore class of Childs, D'Errico, Rory & Charlie Andriole and Zack Schroeder have been a Godsend, accounting for more than half of NDWH's point production. Add in the sophomore netminder whose risen to the top of the goalies at the DI level and you have a certain recipe for success. But then on the other bench you have a team who defined, "Prep doesn't rebuild, they reload." This should've been a rebuilding year. Sather and company wouldn't allow it. Reeves, Bella, Dumont, Whitney and their incredibly deep and selfless D-core stepped out of the shadows of last year's group and willed themselves to the Whale. Now here, they have one more hill to climb in order to repeat, and that hill is a familiar one, but nevertheless a challenging one.
Grab your rosaries, get there early, this one is going to be biblical.