Branford rallies to oust Fairfield skaters
MILFORD -- This was going to be a one-goal game Friday night, Fairfield boys hockey coach Tom Roche figured correctly. But Branford got the biggest one.
Cooper Bunton knocked in a ricocheting puck with 9:14 left to give the Hornets a 3-2 win in the CIAC Division II quarterfinals at Milford Ice Pavilion.
Branford came from 2-0 down after one period to end Fairfield's season at 15-8. Star forward Tyler Criscuolo had a hand in all three goals, tying it on a breakaway 83 seconds before the game-winner.
"We knew it was a long game," Roche said. "They're well-coached. They played well. Criscuolo's a top player, but they've got other players supporting him."
Bunton, who'd stayed down a minute after a first-period collision but remained in the game, batted in the game-winner. Criscuolo's initial shot hit a post, caromed back off goalie Mike Grace and went up in the air. Bunton tipped it in before Grace could get his glove on it.
Fairfield tried to pressure Branford after that, get pucks to the net on goalie A.J. Brink and look for rebounds. The Hornets bottled up the neutral zone and limited Fairfield to four shots.
"We split the season series with (Branford). We knew it'd be a battle," Roche said.
Branford (18-5-1) will face second-seeded Suffield/Granby/Windsor Locks (18-5) in the semifinals Monday at Ingalls Rink in New Haven. The Wildcats beat New Milford 4-3 Friday night. Top-seeded Conard meets North Branford in the other semifinal.
Both Fairfield's Grace and Branford's Brink, teammates in mite hockey, made big early saves. Brink stopped Trevor DeMilt and Jake Fuss on breakaways in the first seven minutes. Grace made a beautiful toe save on Scott Klouda and got across the net for the rebound.
At 7:48, the Mustangs took a lead. Zach Weinstein's shot from the red line hit Brink's glove, then helmet, then went in.
Fuss' centering pass caromed in at 13:16.
"I wasn't concerned at all. We've come back from deficits before," said Brink, son of Hornets (and former Fairfield Prep and Fairfield) coach Adolph Brink. "We just had to keep our heads on straight."
Criscuolo went coast-to-coast off a Brink save to get Branford on the board 1:58 into the second period. The Hornets killed a penalty, and then Brink stopped Fuss on a two-on-none to preserve the lead.
Branford beat Fairfield 6-2 in the season opener. Since then, Fairfield had established itself as a solid Division II team, beating Branford in overtime on a Fuss goal in their second meeting, falling to then-No. 1 Greenwich only 2-1 in mid-February, taking New Canaan to double overtime in the FCIAC quarterfinals.
"I'm proud of the kids, the way they played," Roche said. "Today, the better team won."
firstname.lastname@example.org; http://twitter.com/fornabaioctp; http://blog.ctnews.com/fornabaio
FAIRFIELD 2 0 0--2
BRANFORD 0 1 2--3
Records: Fairfield 15-8; Branford 18-5-1
Goals: F--Zach Weinstein, Jake Fuss; B--Tyler Criscuolo 2, Cooper Bunton; Assists: B--Michael Annunziata 2, Zach Withington, Jack Murray, Criscuolo; Goalies: F--Mike Grace (32 saves); B--A.J. Brink (24); Shots: F--26; B--35