NEW HAVEN — From a strategical, analytical and implementational standpoint, there was hardly anything to displease Greenwich boys hockey coach Chris Rurak this afternoon.
The Cardinals, summoning one of their strongest efforts of the winter when it mattered most, did just about everything necessary to end a 26-year drought since their last state championship.
Everything, save for a 72-second lapse in the third period, when Fairfield Prep scored twice to erase a 2-1 deficit. The Jesuits would add an empty-net goal in the final minute to come away with a 4-2 win in the Division I Tournament final for their 12th title and first in four years.
“We had a gameplan, we knew they were beatable, we believed in what we were doing and how we were executing,” Rurak said. “We outplayed them, we outshot them. Unfortunately two little mistakes and that’s all it takes.”
The Jesuits (21-2-1) did not lose to an in-state opponent this year. They did not face Greenwich during the regular season and were put into a quick hole when Will Baugher scored the first of his two goals, 1:57 into the game.
“The hype has been around Fairfield Prep and we were the underdogs and we really wanted to show we were not the underdogs,” Rurak said. “We’re equal to them if not better on another night, and getting that first goal just solidified that with the players in that, yes, we can play with them and we were equally as good.”
Kevin Oricoli tied the game midway through the period, and the score remained that way until Baugher, from an almost impossible angle on the right side, beat Prep goaltender Jack McGee for a 2-1 advantage at 7:03 of the second period.
Baugher almost beat the buzzer for a hat trick, but his shot hit the bottom of the crossbar.
The Cardinals controlled the play during the period, and their inability to reap the benefits on the scoreboard would come back to haunt them.
Oricoli tied the game at 2:31 of the final period, and then Evan Uva was true with a shot from the point 1:12 later for what would prove to be the winning goal.
“It would have been nice to have that goal off the crossbar,” Rurak said. “It’s a game of mistakes. The one time we didn’t win the battle at our blue line and we didn’t backcheck hard enough, and two mental lapses, and they’re a team that can put the puck in the net when you give them the chance.”
The Cardinals (21-3), who also lost in the FCIAC championship game, composed themselves but could not equalize. They appeared to tie the game when a shot eluded McGee, but the net had come off the moorings right before, which also cost the Jesuits a score earlier in the game.
Carter Kral added an insurance goal with 58 seconds left, just after the Cardinals had pulled goaltender Ben Nash.
Greenwich enjoyed a 26-19 edge in shots.
Rurak had little to be dissatisfied with — except the outcome.
“The gameplan was to get it deep,” he said. “We noticed that their de was uncomfortable in the corners. Then it was just a simple gameplan of getting the puck out of your zone and get it deep in theirs and run the forecheck that we were doing. Then we had some success and capitalized on the turnovers that we had, just like they did.”
It was the final game for Greenwich’s Alex Mozian, who missed almost his entire junior season due to injury and came back from three surgeries, as well as Baugher and five other seniors.
But the Cardinals will return a strong nucleus and remain a contender both in the league and state.
“It’s a little bit disappointing but it’s a great group of kids,” Rurak said. “The two championship games you get upset about that, but there were also 20 other great games that we played. I know the kids are disappointed and I told them there is nothing I can say to take away that disappointment, but they should be tremendously proud of themselves.”