Fairfield playing for Division II title tonight

The Fairfield Warde/Ludlowe ice hockey team upended North Branford, 3-1, in the Division II semifinals on Monday night at Ingalls Rink in New Haven.

The No. 13 seed Mustangs scored in every period, with Thomas Kyrspin, Jack O’Rourke and Austin Armas providing the goals.

Goaltender Kyle Greenhunt made 21 saves to earn the victory in net.

Greenhunt, a sophomore, was named the game’s first star. Since taking the reins from Conner Frawley, Greenhunt has carried the Mustangs to a pair of one-goal victories in the state tournament.

“Our senior goaltender (Frawley) took a puck to the head about three weeks ago,” Fairfield coach Mark Pettorini said. “He was out with a concussion for a few days. Kyle got the chance to step in.

“Frawley got us to this position. I’ve got a hot goaltender right now, I’ve got to play him. It’s unfortunate, he (Frawley) is a senior, but there are twelve seniors on this team. I had to make that decision, it wasn’t easy, but it’s paying off right now.”

Fairfield (13-11) will face No. 2 seed East Catholic of Manchester, which routed No. 3 seed Brookfield-Bethel-Danbury 6-1 in the other semifinal, in the Division II final on Wednesday, March 20 at 7 p.m.

Junior defenseman Nick Johnson scored the lone goal for No. 9 North Branford. The Thunderbirds finished their season at 14-8-1.

Fairfield, which advanced to the semis with a 4-3 double-overtime win over No. 5 Branford High on March 9, last reached the Division II finals back in 2008. The Mustangs dropped a 5-1 decision to Amity-Woodbridge in the 2008 final.

Kyrspin, a senior winger, opened the scoring for Fairfield at 10:27, unleashing a low shot from just inside the left circle that trickled past T-Bird goalie Kyle Saroka.

Behind five saves from Greenhunt, the Mustangs carried that 1-0 edge into the first intermission. Defensively, they limited the scoring chances for the Thunderbirds top line of Dylan Podbielski, Alec Martone and Mark Russo.

“Number twenty-two (Podbielski) is dangerous,” Pettorini said. “You eliminate him, you take away a lot of their power… We did our homework.”

North Branford took four penalties in the second period, with Fairfield capitalizing on its first power-play opportunity of the stanza. With T-Bird winger Martone serving a two-minute hooking penalty, Fairfield defenseman Conor Scharlop fired the puck toward the T-Bird cage.

The shot sailed wide, but O’Rourke corralled the rebound off of the end board in the right slot and slipped the eventual game-winner past Saroka (24 saves) to push the Fairfield lead to 2-0 at 4:51.

“Their goaltender played phenomenal,” Pettorini said. “He made the saves. We just crashed the net and looked for rebounds.”

Armas then converted a two-on-one, burying a pass from junior classmate Kevin Robinson, to extend the Fairfield advantage to 3-0 at 10:22 of the third period.

North Branford, which defeated Fairfield by a 5-2 margin back on Jan. 5, finally broke through with power-play goal at 12:13, but it was too little, too late.

After Robinson took a holding penalty, the T-Birds elected to pull Saroka for a six-on-four advantage.

Johnson, off of assists from Podbielski and Nik Castaldi, got North Branford on the scoreboard with 2:47 left.

Fairfield buckled down, grinding out the clock and punching its ticket to its first state final in five years.

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