Boys hockey: Fairfield’s Fuss scores OT goal

Mike Grace made 39 saves for the Mustangs. — David G. Whitham photo

Mike Grace made 43 saves for the Mustangs. — David G. Whitham photo

Jake Fuss had two swings at the puck on Friday night. He made the second one count.

Fuss’ rebound goal, his 39th, off of his own rebound at 1:22 of the first sudden-death overtime period gave the No. 2 seed Fairfield Warde-Ludlowe boys hockey team a dramatic 4-3 win over top-seed North Branford and the school’s second CIAC Division II state title in four years before a capacity crowd at Yale University’s Ingalls Rink.

The former Juniors player, who came back last season to compete for two years for the Mustangs, reacted quickly when teammate Owen Emmendo’s shot from the point was turned aside by Thunderbirds’ goalie John Lovelace (27 saves).

Fuss fired it back, Lovelace stopped it, but when he sprawled to the ice, Fuss threw the next one in.

“I had two chances at it,” said Fuss, who was a freshman when the Mustangs won the title, also in overtime in 2013. “I was hoping that I wouldn’t fail twice. And, here we are state champions.”

Fairfield scored three goals in the opening period, two from Fuss’ linemate Jack McCormick and another from Will Von Brauchitsch and led, 3-1.

North Branford’s Dominic Raccio had given North Branford (20-4-1) a 1-0 lead just 3:22 into the game when he beat Mustang goalie Mike Grace with a wrap-around score.

After that, Grace, who finished with 43 saves, was nothing short of sensational. He turned aside shot after shot as North Branford had 46 shots.

The Mustangs had a goal called back at 6:13 of the second period when Fuss, who scored four goals in a 5-1 semifinal win over Guilford on Monday night, broke in and beat Lovelace on a breakaway. FWL wound up with a bench penalty on the play for too many men on the ice before surviving a 5-on-3 situation for 46 seconds after another infraction.

North Branford drew even on third-period goals from Mike Pantera (8:54) and Adam Burkle (11:34).

“That’s what is really so disappointing,” said North Branford coach Ralph Shaw, whose team won the Southern Connecticut Conference’s Division II title. North Branford reached last year’s D2 final before losing to Suffield/Granby/Windsor Locks. “Our hope was to end it in the first shift of overtime if we could. We were simply unable to clear the puck and you can’t give a player who is as talented as Fuss is a good opportunity like that.”

The Mustangs got off four shots on goal in that 1:22 span, giving Grace a respite.

“I was ready if the game had gone on,” Grace said. “But you’re always hoping to end it early. Either way, I was ready to help out our team.

Winning coach Tom Roche said unofficially that this is his last game was the FWL coach.

“The kids know it,” Roche said. “It’s hard to describe how I feel right now. It hasn’t quite sunk in. But this game is won by the kids. The coaches organize the lines and send them out there.”

Roche had previously coached at North Haven and at Staples before he joined the Mustang program last season.


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