The Fairfield boys ice hockey team had to wait five years to play a state tournament game at Yale's Ingalls Rink.
Thanks to another all-around, workmanlike performance in all phases of the game, Fairfield will only have to wait a week before returning to the "Yale Whale" to compete for a state championship.
Thomas Kryspin, Jack O'Rourke and Austin Armas each found the back of the net and Kyle Greenhunt stopped 20 shots as Fairfield claimed a spot in the Division II final, its first since 2008, with a 3-1 win over North Branford on Monday evening.
"This is it; there is one game left in the season," Fairfield coach Mark Pettorini said. "It's as good as it gets. This is where we wanted to be; we are going to the big game. These guys are pumped up; we have a few things to work on, but we will be ready."
Fairfield, which will meet No. 2 East Catholic in the title game next Monday, opened the scoring with 4:33 left in the first period courtesy of Kryspin. Kryspin used his entire 6-foot-1 frame to jump in the air to save a puck from leaving the offensive zone before skating through the Thunderbird defense and putting a low shot past goalie Kyle Saroka.
Fairfield took control of the game in the second period, aided greatly by the opposition's deployment of the self-destruct button. The Thunderbirds took four penalties in the period, allowing Fairfield to get many quality chances on net.
"(North Branford) kept taking penalties," Kryspin said. "It was tough not capitalizing, but when you get momentum like that, it definitely stays with us and we were able to bring it through all the way to the end of the game."
Although Fairfield only scored on one of the power plays -- O'Rourke's goal that doubled Fairfield's lead with 10:09 left in the second period -- the energy the undermanned Thunderbirds had to expend chasing Fairfield eventually caused them to wear down.
"I've been saying since day one that we are probably the only team in Division II that has three seniors on their third line," Pettorini said. "I can put them out there without damaging our team. I think you could tell that (North Branford) lost a step at the end of the second period and were starting to get tired."
North Branford (14-8-2) was unable to get anything going offensively for the majority of the night, especially in the third period with the game in the balance. Fairfield was very organized in all three zones, rarely allowing Thunderbirds danger man Dylan Podbielski space to operate. Greenhunt made the crucial saves when called upon as well.
"My defense played good; they blocked a lot of shots and they helped me see the puck well," Greenhunt said. "They kept the other team wide; that helps a lot."
Although Fairfield (12-10) entered the tournament as the 13th seed, the quality of its schedule quickly eliminates any notion this is a fluke, Cinderella-type run.
"Point-wise and ranking-wise we were not on the top," Pettorini said. "If you look at our schedule, we come from the FCIAC and play six Division I teams. Playing Darien and Ridgefield is great preparation; it's tough to get eight wins, but once you do, you are prepared."
Division II semifinals
FAIRFIELD 1 1 1--3
NORTH BRANFORD 0 0 1--1
Records: Fairfield 13-10, North Branford 14-8-1. Goals: F--Thomas Kryspin, Jack O'Rourke, Austin Armas; NB--Nick Johnson. Assists: F--Connor Scharlop, Kevin Robinson; NB--Dylan Podbielski, Nick Castaldi. Goalies: F--Kyle Greenhunt (20 saves); NB--Kyle Saroka (24). Shots: F--27; NB--21.