Fairfield co-op hockey program going strong

A little over a decade ago, it was just a gleam in Adolph Brink's eye.

The brand new head coach of the brand new combined Fairfield boys' hockey team was taking his first steps in building a program that not only won right out of the box, but also established a foundation for winning in the future.

Mission accomplished.

In Brink's -- and Fairfield's -- first season as a co-op program, the Mustangs won 10 games and just missed qualifying for the Division II tournament. And since then, they haven't stopped winning.

A recent 10-1 win over Trinity Catholic was the 100th win in program history and despite a hard-fought 2-1 overtime loss to Division I St. Joseph on Monday night, Fairfield has managed to stay consistent year in and year out, building that foundation of winning that new head coach Tom Roche hopes to continue.

"The kids have been great, the parents have been great," said Roche, who's Mustangs fell to 4-3 with that loss to the Cadets. "We're off to a good start. We have a good overall team. Kids are working hard. We're continuing to push them to play position hockey but we've got some talent on the team so we should win some games."

And Fairfield has, defeating a combined Brookfield-Bethel-Danbury team, Amity, North Branford and Trinity Catholic while falling to Branford and New Canaan.

"When the kids play the way we want them to, they do well," Roche said. "We feel we can compete with anybody. It's never the other team ... it's the team we bring."

Roche had been coaching at North Haven and stepped down after last season. He was planning to take some time off and not coach this season when Dale (Wehmhoff), whom I'm coaching with, called and said, `there's an opening at Fairfield.' So I decided to apply and here we are."

Roche replaced Mark Peterini, who had stood behind the Fairfield bench for six seasons after Brink took the Branford job. Peterini led the Mustangs to 52 wins and five CIAC tournament appearances, including the 2013 Division II championship -- a 4-3 overtime win over East Catholic.

"It was the first one in the school's history and it was awesome," said Peterini, who's now an assistant at St. Joseph. "It was a lot of fun. A lot of guys that are on the (Fairfield) team now, were on the team then. You get a little taste for something like that and you want to go back, so I know they want another one."

Against the Cadets, Fairfield fell behind 1-0 midway through the second period but early in the third, junior Jake Fuss netted the tying goal. The Mustangs had several solid chances over the rest of the period and midway through overtime but couldn't convert the winner. St. Joseph did, however, 6:25 into the eight minute overtime to win the game 2-1.

"We played well. We played well going into overtime, but one mistake and that's all it took," Roche said. "We had one mistake, we left the guy open in the slot and he took the shot, hit the crossbar and went it and the game was over. But the kids played hard, they played better than I could have expected. I was happy with the way they played."

And while Roche was happy with his squad's play, St. Joseph coach J.R. Bria was not happy with his team's play. Still, he gave credit where it was due.

"(Fairfield's) got a new coaching staff in over there and they're doing a great job," Bria said. "The coaching staff here (at St. Joseph) coached a lot of those players over there and they have a lot of good players. (Roche) is working well with them. They're working together. They're definitely a great Division II team. They definitely gave us a run for our money."

The Mustangs can give anyone a run for their money, according to Roche, if they stay focused and true to the game plan.

"We played New Canaan recently and we played them even in the first and third periods but in the second period we lost our focus and they scored four goals on us," Roche said. "So the kids are learning that they have to focus on the play and not just chase the puck. When they don't do that, it hurts them."

Senior Kyle Greehut and junior Mike Grace form a solid goaltending duo while seniors forwards Trevor Dermit, Matt Roberts and P.J. O'Reilly and senior defensemen Zach Weinstein and Wade Petro all played on that 2013 state championship winning team.

Overall, Roche has a good blend of seniors (six), juniors (nine), sophomores (eight) and freshmen (two).

"It's a good mix," he said. "It's not heavy on the seniors, the sophomores and juniors are getting a lot of playing time, so it's working now and it'll be good for the future."

A little over a decade ago, the brand new Fairfield boys' hockey team was taking its first steps. They started winning right out of the box and they haven't stopped.

"It's been great," Peterini said. "It started 10 years ago with Adolph Brink and we started with the program just trying to get a little consistency, a little bit of tradition. I took over as head and we kept the tradition going, tried to build something and now Tom is in there and he's putting his mark on the program. It's definitely something that's there to stay."