HOCKEY: No. 1 Fairfield Prep edges second-ranked Notre Dame-West Haven

BRIDGEPORT — Championships are not won in January, so Saturday’s hockey game between No. 1 Fairfield Prep and No. 2 Notre Dame-West Haven could be seen as almost a bit of a test run for the rest of the season.

The Jesuits, defending state champion and resident power in Connecticut hockey this season, stayed unbeaten in state play with a 4-3 win at the Wonderland of Ice, and in the process handed the resurgent Green Knights their first loss.

“This time of year, it’s always good to win this type of game, a game against a good team,” Fairfield Prep coach Matt Sather said. “You have to take what’s in front of you, we’ve got some things to work on, certainly, but it’s a good win.”

It appeared it might be a comfortable win.

Leading 3-1 late in the game, Prep (6-2) not only killed off a two-man disadvantage, but scored at the other end, with David White coming out of the penalty box to win the puck and find Connor Henry for his second goal of the afternoon (and Prep’s second straight with just four skaters on the ice), giving the Jesuits a 4-1 lead with just 4:54 remaining.

But Notre Dame (7-1) made it interesting, a little too interesting for Prep, whose two losses came at the Mt. St. Charles Christmas Tournament in Rhode Island.

Colby Cretella’s goal just 57 seconds after Henry’s made it 4-2, and Bill Vizzo stuffed home a goal from short-range off a scramble with 13.8 seconds left to make it 4-3. The Green Knights won the ensuing faceoff, but Prep was able to hold on.

“We didn’t really pay much attention to detail at the end there,” Sather said. “But give them credit, it was a nice push by them.”

Prep dominated the first period, but didn’t score until there was 1:01 remaining.

A.J. Unker stole the puck in the ND end, fed Henry, who went around goaltender Luc Amatruda to give the Jesuits a 1-0 lead after the first period, a stanza in which they outshot Notre Dame 12-3.

But the Green Knights were a different team in the second period. Their first line of Vizzo, Cretella, and Greg Zullo gave Prep fits all afternoon.

Just moments after Cretella was robbed by Jesuit goalie Riley Wikman, Zullo had tied the game 33 seconds in. ND won the shot battle, but took the game’s first three penalties, and Prep made them pay on the third.

A Notre Dame fore checker went down in the Prep end, and the Jesuits — now essentially with a momentary two-man advantage — took the lead with just 22.9 seconds left when Will Brophy found an open Patrick Hayes in front.

“We were very tentative in the first period for some reason,” Notre Dame coach Bill Gerosa said. “I thought we had a call on their second goal, it looked like our player was tripped, but we didn’t get it and they scored.”

ND had given up just seven goals in its first seven games, but the Jesuits made it 3-1 just 3:13 into the third when — with plenty of open ice in a 4-on-4 situation — White’s laser from the top of the slot eluded Amatruda.

Notre Dame outshot Prep 29-26, 26-14 in the final two periods.

It’s been a decade since the Green Knights won a state title, seven years since their last appeared in the Division I title game, and ND’s record in the last four campaigns prior to this was 41-40-3. But they certainly looked like they belonged Saturday.

“You always take positives out of any game, but we made too many mistakes to win the game, against arguably the best team in the state,” Gerosa said. “We’ll regroup. We’re starting a very tough stretch in our schedule, and we’ll have to be at our best to win.”

Round 2 between these teams will be Feb. 18 at Bennett Rink in West Haven.