Coaches have the unique ability to find flaws with their teams, even after the biggest of wins.
The Fairfield Prep (Conn.)
hockey team gave Matt Sather
a few things to obsess over during Saturday's game against fellow state superpower Notre Dame-West Haven. Prep's defense was spotty in the first period and it went into a bit of an offensive shell in the second period.
The Jesuits gave Sather more reasons to be happy than fret, however. They went into a jam-packed Bennett Rink in West Haven and handed Notre Dame its first loss of the season, 3-1, improving to 7-0.
Prep is the state's only unbeaten team in CIAC Division I, and a unanimous No. 1 in the New Haven Register's hockey poll. It's been one of the state's most consistent winners over the years, having won 14 state titles. Seven of those championships have come in the last 13 seasons. They also recently won the prestigious Mount St. Charles (RI) Holiday Face-Off Tournament, beating, among others, New Jersey power Delbarton (Morristown, N.J.) in the final.
"We've been making progress," Sather said. "It's a little tough to get a good handle on things, given the ebbs and flows of our schedule with the (holiday) calendar. You're off, and then on, and then off, and then on. We're not quite in rhythm yet, but we've definitely played some pretty good teams and been very competitive in every game we've played.
"I really like the attitude and energy of the guys."
Sather has been elated about his goaltending. It was one of the team's primary concerns after the graduation of All-State goaltender Riley Wikman.
The Jesuits have found not one but three good goalies in juniors Matt Beck
and Chris Gutierrez
, and sophomore Jack Taubl
. Beck (1.7 goals against) has gotten the most starts of the three. He had 33 saves in the Notre Dame win, including two brilliant glove stops in the first period.
"Our goaltending has been excellent," Sather said. "They're all capable. We have great depth there. We knew we had talent coming back, but you don't know how they're going to react in big games, and all three of them have been great in the time they've seen.
"That's certainly a tribute to the three kids and their talent, but I think part of that is also how we approach goaltending at our school. We've been blessed to have some pretty talented kids, but they also work really hard with our goaltending coach (Tim Sather, Matt's brother). We have a full-time goaltending coach who's on the ice with them every day doing nothing but drilling those guys, working with them, motivating them."
Senior forwards Nick Bargiello
(three goals, eight assists), Connor Henry
(seven goals, seven assists) and David White
(seven goals, eight assists) have been the Jesuits' top scorers. Seniors Kevin Brown
, Billy D'Amore
, Sean Henry
(six assists) and Andrew Hatton
have anchored the defense.
"Our four primary defensemen have been spectacular, but we need to start getting contributions from the younger guys," Matt Sather said. "Some of that is as we work with them in practice, we start to trust them a little more. It's nothing they're doing. It's us, as a staff, helping their development and getting them more time. We're not going to get through the whole year playing a high level with only five defensive (players). We're going to need all eight of those guys to contribute.
"Offensively, we've been pretty balanced. Our senior line (Bargiello, Connor Henry and White) has scored a lot of goals for us lately."
Prep blitzed Notre Dame early in Saturday's game, scoring all of its goals in the first 13 minutes. Its defense, on the other hand, had issues in the first period.
"We gave up three point-blank opportunities to them in the slot, I think," Sather said. "Our goalie (Beck) bailed us out every time. We expect our goalie to bail us out once in a while, but he shouldn't have to do it four times in a period.
"There were defensive breakdowns and missed assignments, those sort of things. If you don't fix them and don't address them, then they become bad habits. I wanted to make sure that my guys knew that."Ned
Griffen has covered high school, college and professional sports in the
Northeast since 1992. A 2003 New England Associated
Press News Executives award winner, he may be reached at email@example.com