Boys ice hockey: Branford rallies past Fairfield

The Fairfield Warde/Ludlowe boys ice hockey team lost a 3-2 decision to Branford High in the Division II state quarterfinals on Friday night at the Milford Ice Pavilion.

Seeded sixth, the Mustangs jumped out to a 2-0 lead at the first intermission on goals from Zach Weinstein and Jacob Fuss.

“We got a fluke goal early on… The second goal really picked us up,” Fairfield coach Tom Roche said. “We knew it was a long game. They are well-coached and they played well.”

The Hornets (18-5-1) then tied the game behind two goals from senior standout Tyler Criscuolo, before Cooper Bunton netted the game-winner at 5:46 of the third period.

Mustang goalie Mike Grace (32 saves) made the initial save on a shot from the left circle by Criscuolo, but it deflected off of his glove, off the post and toward Bunton, who knocked in the decisive goal.

“We started giving up too much in the defensive zone, we went away from our original plan,” Roche said. “It ended up hurting us.”

The Hornets advanced to face second-seeded Suffield/Granby/Windsor Locks (17-5) on Monday at Yale University’s Ingalls Rink.

Weinstein opened the scoring at 7:48, beating Branford goalie A.J. Brink (24 saves) on a shot from the red line. The puck hit Brink’s catching glove, but bounced out and over the goal line for a 1-0 Mustang edge. Fuss then made it 2-0 with 1:44 left in the period, converting off of a scramble out in front.

Criscuolo cut Branford’s deficit in half at 1:58 of the second period, scoring his 30th goal of the year, off of a feed from¬†Zachary Withington. Fairfield outshot Branford 14-11 in the stanza, but the Mustangs couldn’t build on their lead and Criscuolo wired a shot over Grace’s shoulder to tie it at 2 with 10:37 left in the third period.

Bunton then finished off the comeback, as Branford moved on into the Division II semifinals on Monday. The teams split their two regular-season contests.

“I’m proud of the kids,” Roche said. “They gave it their best. Today, the better team won.”

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