Greenwich upends Fairfield Prep, advances to state hockey semifinals
BRIDGEPORT -- While discussing his team's outlook prior to the season, Greenwich High School boys hockey coach Bob Russel mentioned that his squad was due to make a strong run in the state tournament after struggling to advance in previous years.
The Cardinals have indeed, proven their coach right.
Fairfield Prep, a team with a championship pedigree, stood between Greenwich and a berth in the CIAC Division I Tournament semifinals and as they have most of the season, the Cardinals rose to the important occasion.
Junior forward Kristian Cunningham scored two goals and senior defenseman Colin Kelly registered one goal and one assist to power top-seeded Greenwich to an impressive 5-2 victory over ninth-seeded Fairfield Prep in the quarterfinal round of the Division I Tournament at Webster Bank Arena.
With the triumph, the Cardinals (21-2-2) advanced to Wednesday's semifinals, where they will face fourth-seeded Glastonbury at Ingalls Rink in New Haven at either 5:30 or 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday will mark Greenwich's first appearance in the tournament's semifinal round since 2002.
"It feels great, we have not been there in a long, long time, so the kids are really looking forward to it," Russel said.
Said GHS senior quad-captain Kevin Piotrzkowski: "Fairfield Prep is such a good program and has won so much, so to beat a team like that and go to Ingalls is really exciting."
The loss ended the Jesuits' two-year reign as Division I champions. Fairfield Prep, a winner of 16 state titles, had also captured the Division I championship three of the last four years. The Jesuits (10-11) fell behind 4-0 7:45 into the second period, before slicing the Cards' lead to 4-2.
"In between the second and third period to me, defines what Fairfield Prep is all about," Jesuits coach Matt Sather said. "To me, it means just as much as a state title. Coming in the locker room and seeing the faces on those kids and how upset they were and how together they are is something I'll remember."
Greenwich wasted little time breaking out on top. Controlling a loose puck from close in, Cunningham tallied on a nifty backhand shot, giving the Cardinals a 1-0 lead just 1:08 into the opening period.
"Their guy was trying to throw it back up the boards and I blocked it with my hand and the puck fell right in front of me," Cunningham said. "I made a move to the backhand and put it over the goalie's shoulder. Getting that first goal is always important. It gets you off to a good start and gives you a little more energy."
"He (Cunningham) was outstanding -- stealing pucks, making plays," Russel said. "That whole line of Cunningham, Mike Mozian and Cal McKinney was fantastic."
The Cards, who outshot the Jesuits 9-8 in the first period, kept the pressure on and eventually widened their advantage. Getting back on the ice after taking a penalty, senior right wing Montana Larson got a feed from junior Aiden Connerty just past the blue line and scored on a breakaway, beating Fairfield Prep senior goalie Jack Taubl with a wrist shot glove side at the 5:43 mark of the opening period.
"Unfortunately we lost in the FCIAC championship, but now we're trying to go all the way and win the state championship," Larson said. "We're playing really well right now."
Cunningham's second goal one minute into the second period put Prep in a three-goal hole and senior forward Brian Silard's tally from the slot while falling to the ice, made it 4-0 with 7:15 left in the second period. The Jesuits had two power-play opportunities earlier in the period, but didn't capitalize.
"Our power play has been a struggle all year, we never found a good rhythm," Sather said. "In a game like this when you get into power play situations, you can get out of rhythm because you are not running three lines anymore."
The defending champions weren't going to go down without a fight though. The Jesuits rallied, cutting Greenwich's lead to 4-2 entering the final period. Junior Jack McGowen scored from the blue line off a pass from senior John Quinn with 5:17 remaining in the second period. Winning a faceoff in the Cards' zone, Fairfield Prep made it a 4-2 game, as Vincent D'Amore's shot deflected off the skate of Justin Blanchette and found its way past GHS goalie Bryan Archino with 17 seconds left in the second period.
With the momentum, the Jesuits came out strong in the final period, but Archino was clutch in goal. The Cardinals' senior netminder made 11 third-period saves and finished with 28. Taubl registered 17 saves.
"We got one off the draw and had great energy going into the third period," Sather said. "I thought we did a lot of great things in the third period."
Supported by Piotrzkowski and Kelly on the backline, Archino and the Cards killed two more power plays in the third period.
"They came out the way they wanted to in the third period, but we've been finding ways to win all season," Archino said. "I've always wanted to play Fairfield Prep, so coming away with a win is one of the best feelings I've had in a while."
Kelly's empty-netter with 49 seconds remaining put the finishing touch on Greenwich's win.
"We scored on a lot of our chances," Russel said. "It was a textbook game."
Division I quarterfinal at Webster Bank Arena
FAIRFIELD PREP 0 2 0 -- 2
GREENWICH 2 2 1 -- 5
Records: Greenwich 21-2-2; Fairfield Prep 10-11
Goals: FP -- Jack McGowen, Justin Blanchette; G -- Kristian Cunningham 2, Montana Larson, Brian Silard, Colin Kelly; Assists: FP -- John Quinn, Vincent D'Amore, Christopher Brown; G -- Kelly, Aiden Connerty. Goalies: FP -- Jack Taubl (17 saves); G -- Bryan Archino (28 saves); Shots: FP--30; G--22