BRIDGEPORT — As the final horn sounded, the entire Fairfield Prep hockey team exploded off its bench and raced as one toward goaltender Jake Walker, mobbing him like a conquering hero.

Which, in a way, he was.

Walker, just a sophomore, was playing in his first varsity game — against the defending Division I state champions Darien, no less. While fighting off nerves and fighting off 24 shots, Walker led the Jesuits to a 3-1 victory over the Blue Wave before a large crowd Wednesday night at the Wonderland of Ice, including several hundred members of the Fairfield Prep “Bomb Squad.”

“Everyone gets to play. He’s a member of the team and he works really hard,” Fairfield Prep coach Matt Sather said. “It’s tough sitting behind two very good guys that are established, but he earned a shot and he played wonderful.”

Walker allowed one goal, a power play tally with just under three minutes left in the second period that cut the Jesuits lead to 2-1. But up until that point and until the final horn, he stopped everything else he saw, including three big shots after Darien pulled goaltender Henri Pfeifle, and put six attackers on the ice for the final 2:22.

“I was very excited,” Walker said. “I’ve put in a lot of hard work and preparation throughout the season and tonight I got my opportunity and I knew I had to make the most of it.”

What helped Walker — and all the Jesuits, for that matter — was the fact that Prep took a quick 2-0 lead in the first period and never let Darien do enough to steal the momentum.

“It was a good battle. I thought it was a great high school hockey game,” Darien coach Mac Budd said. “Obviously, I’m not pleased with the result, but Prep’s a top-notch program year in and year out and I felt it was a fun game to watch. I was happy with the way my guys played. We moved the puck pretty well and we had some opportunities throughout the game, but when we made mistakes, we paid for them.”

Devin Blanchette put Prep on the board at the 7:11 mark of the first with an assist going to Jack Cavanaugh. Just 31 seconds later, it became 2-0 as Tommy Fox beat Pfeifle when he drove down the right side and sent the puck past his stick side. Anthony Clericuzio got the assist.

“That certainly helped him,” Sather said of Walker’s confidence as the Jesuits took a quick lead. “He had to make some big saves early to get into the flow of the game. He stayed poised and kept us in the game.”

Darien pulled within 2-1 when C.J. Hathaway netted a power play goal in the second period. Prep regained the two-goal lead as Joe Mancini banged home a power play goal 3:33 into the third period to make it 3-1.

Walker did the rest.

“He was very calm, it would have been really easy for him to panic a bit in his first varsity start, especially with a pretty big crown here, cheering him on,” Sather said. “And this was an opportunity for us to clinch a playoff berth, our eighth win, so there was a lot of pressure, but he did all the little things we asked him to do. He took whistles in big spots, he controlled the pace of play, when things got a little hectic he slowed things down and he made big saves. You can’t ask for anything more than that.”

And when the final horn sounded, it was Walker who was graciously accepting a victory pile-on from his teammates.

“That was a lot of fun,” he said. “There’s was not better feeling in the world.”

celsberry@ctpost.com

FAIRFIELD PREP 3, DARIEN 1

DARIEN 0 1 0—1

FAIRFIELD PREP 2 0 1—3

Records: Fairfield Prep 8-5; Darien 5-9-1. Goals: FP—Devin Blanchette, Tommy Fox, Joe Mancini; D—C.J. Hathaway. Assists: FP—Jack Cavanaugh, Anthony Clericuzio, Cole Casl; D —William Johnston, James Gregory. Goalies: FP—Jake Walker (24 saves); D—Henri Pfeifle (30 saves). Shots on goal: FP—33, D— 25