Hockey: Potash, SWS conditioned for success

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Evan Mancini (7) of SWS looks to carry the puck around Stamford-Westhill’s Gunner Eriksen in the Division III state final at Ingalls Rink in New Haven. — David G. Whitham photo

Deep within their locker room, well beyond the tears brought about by a stinging loss in a state championship final, players from the Staples/Weston/Shelton hockey team must have felt a deep appreciation late last Saturday morning for assistant coach Ben Potash.

Despite tired muscles and a feeling of remorse for missing out on the big prize, a titleholder’s medallion, members of this squad had the strength and undiminished drive to come back from a three-goal deficit with another one, of what seems like, patented third-periods.

Down 4-1, the Wreckers got two goals from Sam New, one of the players who’ll be returning next year, and a third from Jesse Grenspun, one of five graduating seniors, to pull even at 4 with 3:03 left on the clock.

Unfortunately, Stamford Co-op’s Nick Rich provided the crusher when he got behind SWS’s defense, broke in solo on Wreckers’ goalie Zach Bloom and deposited the puck in the net for what would prove to be the winning goal and his third of the game. With only 27.8 seconds to go, it would’ve taken a Herculean effort to come back once again.

But, without someone like Potash, the team’s first-year strength and conditioning coach, it’s unlikely that the Wreckers would’ve produced enough late-game endurance to rally from three down against a highly-skilled team like Stamford.

“We’ve been able to do this all year long, have great third periods,” said SWS head coach Todd Sharinn. “We’ve always seemed to be there at the end.”

And, it’s likely that Potash, a current senior at New Rochelle, N.Y.’s, Iona College, is the prime reason why.

“Once they hired me and I came on the in spring we began our off-season training in earnest,” said Potash, a native of Greenwich who now lives in Stamford.

“We did sprints, we ran hills and we put in a weightlifting program. I don’t think too many high school hockey teams have gotten into that.”

The end result is the Wreckers have 140-pound forwards who can take shots from mid-ice and put the puck, on the fly, over the net and off the end glass.

They have ferocious forechecking patterns which create havoc in an opponent’s defensive zone. They were constantly able to get to loose pucks, a step or two ahead of an opposing player. And, in one-on-one confrontations they often times outmuscled an opponent.

“I think the real key in hockey is having balance,” Potash said. “And that comes from developing strong legs; being able to anchor yourself on the ice.”

Potash, who never played hockey (he was a high school lacrosse player) is majoring in nutrition and minoring in education at Iona, is also a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter in New York who has a 2-0 record and plans on returning to competition with Team Rain Out now that the hockey season has concluded.

Another love is weightlifting. He can bench press 425 pounds, more than double his bodyweight (205); can squat 525 pounds, and can dead lift 525 pounds.

His summer will consist of attempting to break the existing Connecticut records in all three lifts.

But on Saturday, regardless of the heavy feeling brought on by the loss, Potash was uplifted by this team and how it carried itself throughout a season of 15 wins measured against nine losses and the first trip back to Yale University’s Ingalls Rink for SWS since the 2011 season.

“It’s a family of kids and coaches with deep core values,” he said. “You saw those guys out there with their arms around each other waiting patiently to receive a losing team metal.

“I’m very proud to be part of this group.”

That feeling about Potash no doubt runs through the players and into the coaching staff of Sharinn and the team’s other assistant, Kevin Bettini.

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