It’s obviously important to keep your head up when you’re out in the ice; it’s an equal factor to be able to do it off the ice as well.
That’s what Shelton/Weston/Staples hockey coach Ralph Unker is hoping his team will achieve as it faces its final seven games of the 2012-13 high school hockey season.
The Wreckers took on Division I power Darien in an FCIAC contest at the Milford Ice Pavilion last Wednesday, and SWS did it with only 13 players including one goalie.
The outcome, of course, was one-sided as the Blue Wave skated away with a 12-3 victory, improving their record to 11-1-1.
The undermanned Wreckers are down skaters through sickness and for disciplinary reasons.
They moved sophomore forward Ryan Garwicki of Shelton, one of their leading scorers, back to defense.
Garwicki had a first-period goal, coming on a power-play, as the Wreckers hung in against Darien, which skated four lines as early as the first period, and the locals trailed only 2-1 after the opening 15 minutes.
“We got three goals tonight against what has to be considered one of the better Division I teams in the state,” Unker said. “We competed to the best of our ability. I can’t ask for more than that.”
The Wreckers were also forced to go without their regular goalie, junior William Englehart, who was ill.
Instead, sophomore Matt Beckoff stepped in and made 39 saves. At practice one day before the game, Unker had only 10 skaters and Beckoff to work with.
After taking at 2-1 lead, the Blue Wave blew the game open in the second period by scoring seven goals to take a 9-2 margin into the closing 15 minutes.
In all, 14 players were involved in Darien’s scoring.
“These games can be tough,” Darien coach Chris Gerwig said. “We’re trying to be consistent against a team that’s undermanned. I didn’t realize just how short they were on players until we got here. Give them credit. They played very hard. They were right in the game in that first period.”
Darien scored the first three goals of the second period before Jack Mendillo’s unassisted score at 9:06 made it a 5-1 game.
The Blue Wave bolstered its lead to 12-2 by scoring the first three goals of the final session.
Eric Zurmuehle got a goal for SWS, with assists going to Stewart (his second of the game) and Mendillo, to create the final score.
Darien held a 51-16 margin in shots. Blue Wave goalie Mike Collins made 13 saves.
Stewart and Garwicki make up two of the four-player contingent on the team from Shelton.
“The problem was we ran out of gas and they skated four lines,” said Unker, whose team’s record fell to 4-8 (1-5 against FCIAC competition).”
Unker is not the least bit in favor of abandoning the idea of his team playing all FCIAC opponents, no matter what division they might be in.
“These are rivalries that go back many years,” he said. “Our kids grew up with them. This is high school hockey. It’s not the NHL. It’s all about commitment and coming to the rink every day and working hard.”
The Wreckers have seven games left, but they won’t be eligible for postseason play because the team has taken six major penalties so far this year.
“That won’t stop us from playing hard, I’ll tell you that,” Unker said. “I believe that we’ll be competitive in at least half of the games that we have left.”