Prep hockey advances to Division 1 quarters
Despite earning the Division I tournament's top-seed, Fairfield Prep boys ice hockey coach Matt Sather was worried about his team's first state playoff game against North Haven.
But the Jesuits used defense and enough balanced scoring to placate their tense coach's nerves and get back to the state quarterfinals.
Sophomore Matt Wikman scored early in the second to break a 1-1 tie and three different Jesuits scored goals as top-seeded Prep held off No. 16 North Haven 3-1 on Wednesday at Wonderland of Ice.
"We did just enough," Prep coach Matt Sather said. "The first game of the tournament is always the wild card and it's always a hump to get over."
Prep will meet a familiar foe, eighth-seeded Hamden, who Prep has beaten twice already this season, including a 4-3 overtime affair on Feb. 25. The Jesuits and Dragons will meet Saturday, at 4:30 p.m. at Ingalls Rink in New Haven.
"Being able to play in that scenario is great," senior Matt Brophy said. "We're all excited and ready to go."
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Brophy and sophomore Kenneth Kochiss also scored as the Jesuits' advanced to the state quarters for the third straight year despite missing their second leading scorer, AJ Unker, who was sidelined with the flu.
"We play all our players for a reason," Sather said. "AJ is a great player, and we're much better with him, but we're not too bad without him too."
North Haven also troubled Prep because of its goalie, Mike Amarone, who stopped 40 shots in defeat. The Indians' netminder also stopped 32 against Prep the first time the clubs met, Feb. 8, when the Jesuits only won 2-1.
"When his head's in the game, he is phenomenal," North Haven coach Tom Roche said. "It was the same thing the first time we played."
"I was worried," Sather said. "They're a tough team, they compete real hard."
But Amarone struggled to stay balanced in the first period, and Brophy capitalized putting Prep on the board just 30 seconds in. The senior forward stole the puck, and ripped a shot from the top of the circle, giving the Jesuits the early lead.
"It felt great," Brophy said. "I was in the right place at the right time and I don't think the goalie was set and I put it away."
"They came hard and definitely brought it," Brophy said.
But after Indians' senior Mark Girardi was sent to the box late in the first for tripping, Prep capitalized on its carryover power play. Wikman's centering feed from below the right circle, hit an Indians defender and beat Amarone, putting Prep ahead 2-1.
"We knew penalties would hurt us," Roche said. "They're tough enough to stop five-on-five. That goal did hurt."
Kochiss' tip on Tim Edmonds' point shot with 2:02 left put the game away.
Besides senior Tom Worsfold's two assists, Prep's defense also kept the Indians at bay, holding North Haven to just four third period shots on goal.
"To stick to it in the third period when the pressure is on is impressive," Sather said. "It's a sign of maturity."