The Fairfield Stags finally have a reason to believe. Fairfield tied a program record for wins in a season and defeated a nationally ranked team for the first time all year when they beat the #10 Denver Pioneers 9-8 in overtime last Saturday.
“It’s a gutsy performance,” Fairfield head coach Andy Copelan said. “It didn’t come easy there in the second half … we really had to dig deep there and find a way to battle back there at the end.”
Fairfield (11-2, 4-1 ECAC) was led by attack Sam Snow ’13, who tied a career high with five goals in the game including the game tying goal with 19 seconds left in regulation.
Snow also struck for the game winning goal 1:32 into the first overtime period; this is the second time this season he has ended a game.
“Sam is an absolutely remarkable young man,” Copelan said. “He shows up everyday to practice, he’s kind of what I expect and what I want this pr gram to be about.”
Denver (7-5, 3-3 ECAC) held the lead for most of the game, but could not stretch their advantage to more than three, with their largest 8-5 with 9:47 remaining in the game.
“We played a hell of a game,” Denver attack Mark Matthews said. “We played a great team in Fairfield this week … we can’t lose that three-goal lead like we do. A couple of bounces go our way that’s our game.”
Fairfield came from behind on three separate occasions. The Pioneers held Fairfield scoreless for nearly 20 minutes until Sam Snow inched the Stags closer seconds after Coach Copelan called a time out with 9:47 remaining in the game.
“Give them credit,” Denver head coach Bill Tierney said. “They call a timeout, they run the pick play and then Snow nails one.”
That goal shifted the momentum as the nearly 1,000 fans in attendance regained their energy.
“I think you felt the whole place, the momentum kind of shifted there a little bit,” coach Copelan said. “That first one was a nice weight off your chest there.”
Even with the momentum, the Pioneers still controlled their own destiny. They were leading by one in a man-up situation with less than a minute to play, but then Fairfield goal-keeper Charlie Cipriano ’12 caused a turnover to regain possession and Denver fouled Cipriano to be forced into a man-down situation.
“I just knew we needed the ball back,” Cipriano said. “There’s been too many times this year where we’ve lost big game like that … I just went out there and got the ball back.” The reigning ECAC goalkeeper of the year stopped a game high 12 shots.
The big difference of this game could have been the experience. Even though the Pioneers defeated Fairfield last year in the ECAC championship, in 2012 the Stags are arguably more battle tested. They are now 4-0 in overtime games, while Denver has now lost three games in extra time.
“As I told the team, last year we’re winning all those games,” coach Tierney said. “When it got close we just had the confidence to step on people … it hasn’t happened this year.”
All these close games could help the Stags as they continue to rise in the standings. They have already clinched a spot in the ECAC tournament for the second straight year and say that the win against Denver could be a signature win.
“It’s absolutely monumental,” Snow said. “We’re without a doubt a program on the rise, we’ve got something to be proud of now, people have to watch out for Fairfield.”