The Stags began their inaugural season at Rafferty Stadium with a narrow 10-9 non-conference loss to the Holy Cross Crusaders on Saturday.
Fairfield owned the run of the play in the first period with Tristan Sperry ’15 notching the first goal just over a minute into the game. He netted his second goal two and a half minutes later, and the Stags would led 2-0 at the 11:17 mark.
Sophomore Dave Fleming would push the lead to 3-0 with a goal assisted by Drew Federico ’15 with 8:40 left on the clock. Holy Cross would barely have possession until deep into the period, but Sean Wilkinson would net his first of the game for the Crusaders at 7:13. Senior Colin McLinden would answer back with a goal at 5:43 to keep the Stags ahead, and they would take a 4-1 lead into the break.
Fairfield held a 4-2 edge in faceoffs, a 10-5 advantage in shots and grabbed six ground balls in the first period.
Both defenses would settle into a stronger rhythm in the second period, with Holy Cross earning much more time in Fairfield’s half. Wilkinson would net his second goal of the game for the Crusaders to pull the score to 4-2 two and a half minutes in; but, Sperry would respond with another goal for the Stags one minute later to secure a hat trick of his own. The game would take a slower turn with both sides trading long possessions before Sperry found T.J. Neubauer ’16, who fired home his first goal of the game to give the Stags a 6-2 lead. Holy Cross would pull one back just over a minute later to halve the lead to 6-3 with 7:36 left in the half. Neither side would find the back of the net again before halftime.
Fairfield still held the advantage in shots (18-13) and ground balls (13-11), but committed seven turnovers in the second period.
The second half saw the Holy Cross offense look much more dangerous in Fairfield’s half of the field. The Crusaders would notch two more goals in the opening 11 minutes to pull the score to 6-5 before Fairfield would get on the board again for the first time since the 8:57 mark of the second period. Neubauer scored his second goal of the game with 7:17 to play in the third. Crusader Marc Buermann would exchange goals with Neubauer again, and the Stags would remain up by one with 1:38 to play. With five seconds left in the period, Logan LeBlond snuck in his second goal of the game for Holy Cross to knot the score at 8-8 entering the final period.
The Stags again led the period in shots (26-21), ground balls (21-20) and faceoffs (10-9). However, goalkeeper Michael Ortlieb kept Holy Cross on the offensive with eight saves in the third. Fairfield also committed 10 turnovers, and continually found themselves struggling to clear the ball.
Neubauer scored his fourth goal of the game early in the fourth period, firing home a pass from Sperry at the 13:40 mark to edge the Stags ahead 9-8. This was the last time Fairfield would find the back of the net. Holy Cross grinded out long possessions throughout the rest of the final period. Clay Haarmann scored his first goal of the game with 6:47 on the clock to tie the game at 9-9 before fellow teammate Terry McKenna put away an unassisted goal of his own with 3:40 to play, giving the Crusaders a 10-9 lead that the Stags could not overcome before the final whistle.
Although Fairfield continued to narrowly lead in nearly all categories — 39-32 in shots, 30-27 in ground balls, 13-10 in faceoffs — they could not make the most of their offensive opportunities.
Down the stretch, the pace of Holy Cross began to wear on the Stag defense, whose efficiency in front of the net proved the difference maker.
“We failed to clear the ball seven or eight times,” head coach Andy Copelan said. “We ended up playing a lot of defense, then all of a sudden we couldn’t get into any offensive rhythm that we were able to get into early.”
In his first career start, Brad Nordstrom ’18 tallied nine saves for the Stags.
“We believe in Brad,” Copelan said. “We knew his talent when we recruited him. He has exceeded all expectations, and he earned that starting nod today.”
“We’ve always been able to play the underdog role, and we’ve always been able to be the hunter. We have all of a sudden become the hunted. Every opponent is going to give us an A-plus effort, and we’re going to have to get used to that.”
Fairfield (0-1, 0-0 Colonial Athletic Association) now begins a five-game road trip, first visiting Providence College on Feb. 17 before taking on Manhattan College on Feb. 21. The Stags return to Rafferty Stadium on March 14 to host Colgate University.