At 5-foot-4 and 130 pounds, sophomore winger Ryan Johnson isn’t about to physically terrorize opponents on the ice.
Instead, the diminutive Johnson, of Shelton, likes to find open spaces and score goals for the Staples/Weston/Shelton boys ice hockey team.
On Monday night, Johnson had a pair of goals, as did linemate Jack Mendillo, as the eighth-seeded Wreckers defeated ninth-seeded Lyman Hall/Haddam-Killingworth, 6-2, in the opening round of the CIAC Division III tournament at the Milford Ice Pavilion.
In fact, Johnson’s line, which also includes Derek Nussbaum, contributed five of the team’s total markers as the winners, who now sport a 9-12-1 record, move on to meet the division’s top-seeded team, Masuk of Monroe, in a quarterfinal game on Thursday night at a site to be determined.
“I call Ryan Johnson the ‘little train that can,’” said Wreckers’ first-year coach Todd Sharinn. “He’s unbelievable. If you put six inches and thirty pounds on him, he’d be a legitimate Division I college prospect who would be playing Junior A hockey in two years. Right now, we like him right where he is.”
Johnson scored his 12th and 13th goals of the season, to go along with 17 assists, on a team which had one win over a Division I team this season (Greenwich) and a tie with another (St. Joseph of Trumbull).
His score off of a rebound at 9:52 of the second period was probably the biggest goal of the game. At the time, it gave SWS a 3-1 lead against a team which had battled back after trailing 2-0 through one period.
“I let those guys (Mendillo and Nussbaum) take the body and I look to score goals,” Johnson joked. “They’re great linemates. It’s all about them. Tonight, they got me the puck in good situations, and it happened to go in.”
Mendillo got his 29th goal of the season on a shot from the point on a power play at 6:35 of the opening session to give the Wreckers a 1-0 edge. Eric Zurmuehle then made it 2-0 with just nine seconds to play in the period, scoring on a shot from just inside the Trojans’ blue line.
Zurmuehle had a six-point night (one goal along with five assists) for a team which held a 31-30 margin in shots.
“Overall, I’m proud of how these guys played tonight,” Sharinn said. “It wasn’t our best game. In fact, at times I thought we were sloppy and didn’t stay within our system.
“But it was a physical and emotional game and one, that obviously, we needed to win.”
Once the Trojans, under first-year coach Rich Minnix, drew close on a goal from Nick Baccaro to make it a one-goal game (2-1), the Wreckers brought it up a notch.
After taking a 3-1 lead through two periods, SWS got third-period goals from Mendillo and Johnson (from the slot while on another power-play) and an empty-netter from Nussbaum to put it away.
“I think playing the type of schedule that we have to (in the FCIAC), gave us a little more confidence,” Johnson said. “It measured our limits and helped us big time tonight.”
Senior goalie William Englehart made 28 saves and kept the puck away from out in front of the net.
“We never saw too many rebound opportunities,” said Minnix, who replaced Tim Belcher as the teams’ coach this season. Belcher moved on to Notre Dame of West Haven. Minnix was a former player with the team (graduating in 2005).
“They (SWS) have a strong first line and a good goalie. All-in-all, I’m happy with our season (the Trojans finished with an 9-12 record). We simply ran into a team that was better than us.”
Trojans’ goalie, Zach O’Toole, of Haddam-Killingworth, turned aside 25 shots.