In a state tournament showdown that featured more twists and turns than a country road, the third-seeded Staples-Weston-Shelton ice hockey team earned its first berth in the Division III championship game since 2011.
However, second-seeded Woodstock Academy made sure the Wreckers worked extra to earn it.
Ian Offenberg’s short-handed goal at 10:19 of overtime fired SWS to an epic 6-5 triumph over Woodstock Academy in the semifinals of the Division III state tournament late Tuesday night at Ingalls Rink in New Haven.
“I was thinking this better not bounce and go the other way, because they had numbers,” Offenberg said. “It just found its way to my stick. I don’t know why it’s happening now. That hasn’t happened for the last four years, but I’ll take some goals now I guess. The Gods are paying me back.”
The Wreckers will face a familiar foe, as fifth-seeded Westhill-Stamford (11-6-2) will oppose them on Saturday morning at 10 in the Division III final at Ingalls Rink.
Offenberg’s game-winner came off of a frenzy out in front, with Centaur goaltender Cal Wilcox sprawling toward the loose puck following a scuffed shot from Billy Hutchison. Offenberg was in the right place at the right time to sling the rebound past Wilcox, who could not come up with his 51st save of the night.
“Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good,” SWS head coach Todd Sharinn said. “The word was defense first — stay at home, ice the puck… I was shocked the way it ended. It ended on a misfired shot. That goalie was unreal — he stood on his head.”
SWS (13-8) led 3-1 at the first intermission, before Woodstock, playing in just its third varsity season, stormed back behind high-flying forward Ryan Black.
Black rattled off a natural hat trick in the second period, scoring at 3:35, 12:77 and 13:01 to turn a two-goal Centaur deficit into a 4-3 edge.
At the start of third period, Centaur senior Zack Burnham beat SWS keeper Zach Bloom on a breakaway to make it 5-3 Woodstock, before it was the Wreckers’ turn to rally.
Ryan Purgay ignited the rally, as his centering feed caroomed off of a Centaur defender and past Wilcox, narrowing the SWS gap to 5-4.
Continuing a barrage that saw the Wreckers outshoot Woodstock, 56-24, Ryan Johnson then netted the equalizer at 5:55.
SWS was unable to capitalize on roughly eight consecutive minutes of power-play time after the equalizer, including a pair of five-on-threes, as the Centaurs took penalty after penalty.
Deadlocked after three periods, the teams went into OT, where they both had multiple chances to win the game. SWS hit at least two posts, before Offenberg won it moments after Evan Mancini went to the penalty box to serve a minor at 10:01.
“If I had to pick anybody to score the goal, he’s the right guy,” Sharinn said of Offenberg.
Johnson kicked off the scoring at 5:21, collecting a pass from Mancini and converting a breakaway at 5:21 of the first.
Will Liscomb, with an assist from Jon-Luc Cournoyer, tied it at 7:08 and Hutchison put SWS back ahead with a deflected goal during a four-on-four at 10:02.
Hutchison struck again at 14:48 to make it 3-1, before Black’s hat trick gave Woodstock the lead heading into the third period.
Woodstock finished its season at 17-4 overall.