Trying to recover from major graduation losses after winning a state championship is business as usual at Fairfield Prep. The Jesuits have repeated as state champs seven times since 1980 and four times in the last 17 years.

And while the task at hand facing head coach Matt Sather may feel a bit more difficult than in the past, no one is silly enough to count this team out in 2018-19.

Prep, winners of 17 state titles, said good bye to nine core players from last year’s 17-2-1 team that beat Greenwich 4-2 in the Division I state final: six forwards, two key defensemen and the starting goalie.

“We have a lot of scoring to replace, but more importantly is how we respond to the graduation of almost our entire defensive identity,” said Sather, now in his 20th season.

Gone are forwards Devin Blanchette, Skyler Celotto, Ryan Eckert, Carter Kral, Joey Mancini and Kevin Oricoli. Meanwhile, defensemen Cole Casl, one of the best in the state, and Matt Kernaghan graduated, as did goaltender Jack McGee. It’s not exactly starting over but it’s as close to a rebuild as the program has come in quite a while. And at Prep, they don’t know the meaning of the word “rebuild.”

Sather, however, is hopeful, that the Jesuits will return a deep and experienced squad. That should help as they navigate through what will once again be a most challenging schedule.

The Jesuits face perennial state contenders Ridgefield, Darien, Notre Dame of West Haven and Notre Dame of Fairfield twice, as well as games against Xavier and West Haven, and out-of-state powers LaSalle Academy (RI) and Malden Catholic (Mass.). Prep is also entered in the Mount St. Charles (RI) and Pope Francis (Mass.) tournaments, which always attract strong fields.

“We will need to play excellent team defense if we are to rise to the schedule that is in front of us,” Sather said.

Sather will rely on a core group of six forwards this season. Seniors Colin Bella, Anthony, Clericuzio, co-captain Calyb Reeves and Chandler DuMont, junior Matt Wenger and sophomore Mason Whitney will hopefully provide enough offense. Bella (11 goals, 11 assists, 22 points) is the team’s top returning scorer. Reeves (9-12-21) and Clericuzio (5-8-13) seem poised for big seasons.

“Offensively, Bella and Reeves are among the best pure goal scorers in the state,” Sather said. “They should lead a balanced offensive attack. Look for Whitney to emerge as an impact player.”

Senior co-captain Connor Boyle and fellow seniors Jack Carroll and Evan Ferruggio will have the tall order of replacing Casl and Kernaghan on defense.

And then there is the issue of replacing McGee, who was outstanding in goal in the state final victory over Greenwich. Jake Walker looked good in limited duty last year, going 2-0-1 with a 2.00 goals against average and .920 save percentage.

“The defense will be a key for us,” Sather said. “Certainly, Boyle, Carroll, Farruggio and Jake Walker will lead that charge.”

So, it will be no surprise if the rebuilding - oops, make that rebuilding — Jesuits are still skating on the final day of the season next March.

“If healthy,” Sather said, “we should make a deep run come March.”