For weeks, defending Division I state champion Notre Dame-West Haven sat atop the New Haven Register’s state hockey poll.
Even after Fairfield Prep went to Rhode Island, swept its three opponents– including a win over New Jersey’s No. 1 team, The Delbarton School — ND-West Haven was voted the state’s top team in the subsequent Register poll.
There’s merit to that. The logic is, until you lose, you’re No. 1. Also consider that the poll is voted by local media, none of whom schlept to Woonsocket, R.I. to see the Mount St. Charles tournament.
So when Prep had the opportunity to show the state which club was No. 1, Saturday, the Jesuits made the most of it.
Prep goalie Matt Beck made 33 saves, and the Jesuits scored three first-period goals. Prep held on for a 3-1 win over the Green Knights at sold out Bennett Rink.
“This is great,” Beck said. “Beating a team like Notre Dame … they have great coaching, great offensive talent and I’m really glad we were able to come out and play well as a team.”
Though the Jesuits stymied their rival, unseating the state’s top team, their coach Matt Sather was still not impressed.
“I didn’t think we started that well,” he said. “I thought Notre Dame outplayed us for most of that game.”
Sather credited Beck and deservedly so. The junior netminder made three stellar first-period saves, robbing ND’s Kyle Thibault point-blank on a breakaway.
“Matty was spectacular,” Sather said. “I thought he was definitely the difference in the game.”
Beck took pride in that save and what it did for Prep.
“I thought I was able to give our team a real good chance to win,” he said. “I thought the save gave our team life. I knew if I didn’t make that save, it would’ve been 1-1, and it could’ve been a lot different … making that save was a statement.”
Beck also robbed ND captain Greg Zullo twice with his glove.
Part of what made Sather so agitated was his team’s inability to move its feet.
“We should’ve skated,” he said. “I don’t think we had our best legs today.”
Sather thought the difference between Prep Saturday and at Mount Saint Charles came from distractions.
“Playing up there is fun, and winning that was very fun,” Sather said. “But it’s a different world. You’re in a hotel, there’s no distractions, there’s no rivalries. You just go out there and play hard.
“Then you come back here and kids have school and there’s classes and parents and then rivalries and emotion comes into play … it’s sometimes hard to make that adjustment and I don’t think we made it all that well today.”
Prep’s long-time coach also thought the three first-period goals were not indicative of how the period went.
“I thought we had some nice plays to score goals, but I thought they were the better team for most of that game,” he said. “I felt like the first period was this raw emotion … goals are nice, and we’ll take them, but … I thought the edge was theirs.”
ND coach Bill Gerosa did not share that sentiment, though. Gerosa claimed his squad’s had trouble with first periods this year.
“We spoke about the lack of intensity in the first period, and that was the game,” Gerosa said. “We haven’t come out strong in the first period this year.”
I pressed Gerosa as to why his club hasn’t played with intensity in the first. His answer?
“I’m trying to figure that out. It’s been happening all year. Maybe we need an attitude adjustment in practice or something.”
Although he hit the post on a second-period penalty shot, Matt Wikman
was happy to see his line get going.
Wikman, who potted the game-winning goal in double overtime of Prep’s Mount St. Charles tournament win, has watched the Jesuits’ first- and third-lines take off thus far this year.
But Wikman, who had a goal and an assist Saturday, and his linemates Dean Lockery and Kenny Kochiss, combined for two goals.
“We definitely wanted to get something started,” Wikman said.
Sather credited Wikman’s tally, a powerplay goal that gave Prep a lead just 3:11 in.
“I thought his goal was great,” Sather said. “It was a hard-working goal.”
David White improved his point streak to seven, with his assist on Connor
Henry also has registered at least one point in each of Prep’s first seven contests.
I made a lot of Prep’s third-line early on, but White and Henry’s contributions are invaluable. It’s essential for a top team to have its top line scoring.
White’s likely Prep’s MVP thus far this year. Henry’s in the conversation too.
I thought Kevin Brown played a great game Saturday and probably deserved a secondary assist on Henry’s goal. Though none was given officially.
Aidan Rush, who played as Brown’s defensive partner for spells, was also smart with the puck and made some good plays.
I’ll be at Prep vs. Career basketball Tuesday.
I’m looking forward to that one. I saw, and spoke with, Leo Redgate on Saturday at the hockey game. He assured me that, although Career is just 3-2, the Panthers are a formidable squad.
Wednesday will be Ludlowe vs. Warde wrestling. Then Friday I’ll be at Fairfield Warde vs. Danbury girls basketball.
Pat Pickens is the sports editor of the Fairfield Citizen, a Hearst Connecticut Newspaper organization. Follow him on Twitter here.