AP NEWS

boys hockey Jesuits finish where they started, at No. 1

March 22, 2019

NEW HAVEN — Fairfield Prep began the season on top of the GameTimeCT boys hockey poll. It finishes the year there, as well, after winning its 17th CIAC Division I championship on Tuesday, the state-record 18th overall.

The road between those twin top rankings was anything but straight. Some years, the Jesuits are a clearly dominant team, like they were last year, going 22-2-1, perfect in-state. This was the other kind of Jesuits season.

Ridgefield outclassed them on opening night, setting the Tigers on the way to an unbeaten regular season. Fairfield Prep was once 3-6; it was 7-7.

The Jesuits are state champions, finishing at 15-9-1, including 12-6 against Connecticut competition.

“I think they just were sort of methodical,” said their coach, Matt Sather, whose 11th state championship ties him with a legend, Hamden’s Lou Astorino, the man for whom the Green Dragons’ rink is named.

“It’s not an exciting answer, but if I had to add up the number of practices we missed as a team, it’s probably five.”

Sather’s first full season of 20 set a bit of a template for this type, with an early five-game losing streak but steady development. The Jesuits, who narrowly made the state tournament at 8-11-1 in 1999-2000, won four tournament games in a row to win that year’s title.

Ten more have followed, including the past two after FCIAC teams had won three championships in a row.

Ridgefield looked like a team that might take it back, rolling to the FCIAC championship and entering the state tournament at 22-0. But Xavier contained the Tigers in the quarterfinals and ended Ridgefield’s dream season in overtime.

The Tigers finish second in the poll, where they started. They’d been No. 1 every week during the season.

The Jesuits, meanwhile, spent three weeks at No. 7 after starting the year 2-4. They trickled up to sixth, to fourth, then fifth, a week tied at third, a week at fourth, then two weeks at No. 3 going into the postseason.

“These guys came every day and just methodically got better and more confident,” Sather said. “I’m not sure it’s an exciting answer, but it’s the best I’ve got.”

State runner-up Notre Dame-West Haven finishes at No. 3, moving up from the No. 7 spot it held in the poll before the state tournament. The team it defeated in the semifinals, Northwest Catholic, comes in at No. 4, and Darien, which was No. 2 most of the season but fell to Notre Dame in the quarterfinals, rounds out the top five. Division II champion Branford takes the ninth spot, and Division III champion LHK received votes.

Of the state’s 56 programs, 25 received at least one top-10 vote this season. Only eight — the final top eight — received a vote in each of the season’s 12 polls.

But the Jesuits come out on top, as they have so often the past two decades.

“We’re so lucky as a school that we get such great support,” Sather said. “You saw the fans (at the state final). It makes a big difference. Notre Dame showed up as well. That’s why the two schools are what they are when it comes to hockey. It’s just an honor to be part of the tradition.”

mfornabaio@ctpost.com; @fornabaioctp