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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

CIAC Division 1 Championship Preview

By: Luke Devoe

CIAC Boys Ice Hockey Division I Championship
 Fairfield Prep vs. (2)ND-West Haven
Tuesday March 19, 7:00 pm
Ingalls Rink, New Haven

This is it, for D1.  With last night's weather CIAC moved the D2 final to tomorrow (Wednesday) night, so the season will not end as it normally does with the D1 final being the last game.  But let that not diminish what will take place tonight at what many are now referring to as "The Ship."  

Prep has taken all three previous meetings with NDWH, have only lost once all year and have gone undefeated against CT competition to the tune of a 22-1 overall record.  While NDWH's overall mark isn't nearly as impressive there has never been a doubt who the top two teams in the state were.

Prep hopes to be celebrating like this tonight at Ingalls.
Prep cruised to this point.  After a bye, they leapt a quarterfinal scare when (8) Hamden led them 3-1 early second period and flew to victory, finishing off the Green Dragons 8-3.  Then toppled (4) Ridgefield 4-1 thanks to 25 saves from junior back up goaltender Chris Gutierrez.  The Jesuits received goals from senior Billy D'Amore, juniors Mat Wikman and Dean Lockery and sophomore Brendan Killoy.  The Jesuits are mighty and are as defensively oriented as any team in the state.  With a defensive unit lead by seniors D'Amore, Sean Henry, Andrew Hatton and Kevin Brown, falling behind to the Jesuits is a recipe for disaster. But that ain't all.  Prep pours over the boards a ton of offensive pop as well including all-stater David White, line mates and seniors Connor Henry and Nick Bargiello, as well as a host of other contributors including Lockery, Wikman, Matt McKinney, Mike Ventricelli, and Timmy Edmonds among others.  Expect Prep to send junior Matt Beck to man the crease tonight as he's been their guy in big game situations.  The combination of Beck and Gutierrez and even sophomore Jack Taubl is a nice luxury for any coach to have.

NDWH is deep as well.  While their journey to this point has been a little more varied than Prep, there wasn't much doubt after the first round.  In that round the Knights were pushed to the brink by an upset minded (15) East Haven club who had NDWH on the ropes late.  The Easties led NDWH 4-1 late in the second period but a couple of Kyle Thibault goals and an end to end rush in overtime by senior Greg Zullo proved to be the difference in a game Notre Dame put 70 shots on net.  The quarterfinals didn't prove to be much of a challenge to the Knights who easily toppled (7) Simsbury 6-1.  In the semi's NDWH was faced with a Brendan Hathaway-less (3) Darien squad who they dispatched of in embarrassing fashion, 8-0.  Seven Knights (Vizzo (2), Zullo, Dostie, Austin, R. Lynch, K. Lynch, Ruocco) scored in the victory.  Junior Billy Vizzo and senior Greg Zullo have done an admirable job filling in the scorecard in the wake of captain Colby Cretella's graduation.  These two are dynamic.  They play all facets and are two of the state's best penalty killers.  But the unsung hero of this line is sophomore Ryan Lynch.  The 6'2" Lynch plays poised, confident and with a wisdom beyond his academic years.  Head coach Bill Gerosa found the right combination early pairing Lynch with his two top gunners.  While NDWH isn't as deep as Prep defensively they have a handful of blue liners capable to stalling even the best offenses in the state.  They are led by seniors Darren Capobianco and his monster slap shot, Cam Hotchkiss, and his steadying influence, and junior Lou Iannotti, who's proven to have more of an offensive impact this year as well as a big bodied presence.  In net, NDWH will go with senior Paul Sliwinski who has been Gerosa's guy since coming on in relief of senior Luc Amatruda in the second period of the East Haven first round win.

In the first meeting of the two Prep jumped out to an early first period 3-0 lead and thus set the stage for the remainder of the day.  They shut down any offensive flow and eliminated any chance of a comeback creating fits for NDWH offensively and despite a second period NDWH goal, the Jesuits held on to a 3-1 convincing win.  Prep received goals from Connor Henry, Dean Lockery and Matt Wikman on the day while Matt Beck was fantastic stopping 30 of 31 shots.  The second meeting, the best of the three, was as even as you could find.  Beck again turned aside 30 shots only this time, none got by and the lone Jesuit goal was scored at the last second of the second period on a net front poke from senior Nick Bargiello.  NDWH senior goalie Luc Amatruda was equally as outstanding in net as Beck stopping 32 of 33.

Junior Dumas (15) hopes he has another one left on that stick tonight.
Prep and NDWH also met in the SCC D1 Final at High Point Solutions Arena at the TD Bank Sports Center at Quinnipiac.  Prep disposed of the Green Knights 6-2 in a game much maligned by both sides.  The game had a weird feel.  Billy Vizzo was suspended for his actions in a 4-4 tie against Hamden.  Prep was clear that they were going to get both goalies Beck and Gutierrez action and while Gerosa probably wanted to do the same with his goalies his hand was forced early after an onslaught from Prep that saw them take a 2-0 lead after one on goals from Lockery and Edmonds.  Gerosa countered with normal starter Amatruda who wouldn't fair any better.  ND would make it interesting early in the second when junior Matt Dumas would beat Beck to make it 2-1 but that was as close as they'd get.  Prep would get goals from Lockery, Edmonds, Ventricelli and White. ND added a goal from Ruocco in the losing effort.  

So the stage has been set.  Can fourth time be a charm for the Green Knights?  They rock a shamrock on their jersey so maybe the recent St. Patrick's Day festivities will provide some luck.  Or maybe Prep will coast, allowing NDWH to be just another feather in their feather-filled cap.  I think it'll be close and I think this is NDWH's best shot of any to topple the Jesuits based on the way the teams have been playing of late.  I just can't pick against Prep right now.  I also don't play favorites but I think it would be excellent if NDWH can somehow find a way to beat Prep tonight, prove their invincibility and win back to back state titles.  I just don't think it happens.  Fairfield Prep 4, NDWH 2.

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