Ice hockey: Panthers halt Wreckers’ tourney run

The immediate sting of a Division III state tournament second-round loss was felt deeply by the Staples/Weston/Shelton co-op hockey team, after the eight-seed Wreckers were beaten by top-seed Masuk of Monroe, 6-3, on March 13, at Bridgeport’s Wonderland Of Ice.

When the players and coach Todd Sharrin have time to contemplate the season, however, it’s almost certain that smiles will arise on their faces.

But, in current time, the loss to Masuk, after a 6-2 win over Lyman Hall/Haddam Killingworth just three days prior, was felt up and down the bench.

The Wreckers (9-13-1) fell behind 3-1 after one period but managed to surge back twice in the second period, cutting two-goal leads down to one (at 3-2 and 4-3).

The third period proved to be the Wreckers’ undoing. A goal by Masuk’s Brian Denham (his first of two) just 1:35 into the final 15 minutes produced yet another two-goal margin for the Panthers (18-4).

Panthers’ goalie Connor Muller stood his ground down the stretch, with an eight-save effort. He had 22 on the night.

“It’s been the story for a good part of our season,” Sharinn said. “We’ve run into many goalies this year who have played some of their better games against us. Tonight their kid (Muller) got stonger-and-stronger as the game moved on

“We simply ran into a very good team tonight, one with three lines and that took its toll on us.”

The Wreckers found themselves down 2-0 only seven seconds after the mid-way point of the opening period.

Dave Reid got the first of his two goals at 7:17 when he converted Shane Dushay’s shot from near mid-ice, which caromed off the back wall and back out in front of the net and fired it past SWS goalie Will Englehart (28 saves).

When Reid batted in a rebound, after Englehart turned aside Charlie Christo’s effort at 7:43, Masuk had a two-goal margin.

Behind a pair goals and looking like they were on a downslide, the Wreckers’ Jack Mendillo picked his team up with a short-handed goal at 13:59, creating the first of three one-goal deficits.

He took a pass from line-mate Derek Nussbaum, skated in alone and beat Muller from the fore-hand side.

But the Panthers rallied, getting a power-play goal from Reid, with assists going to Christo and Denham, with only 4.5 seconds left in the period.

“That’s the goal which made the difference,” Masuk coach Andy Townsend said. “It gave us the momentum we needed.”

Mendillo’s second goal of the game, and his 31st of the season, a scant nine seconds into the second period put the Wreckers right back in contention.

However at 2:07, Dan Zakrzewski upped Masuk’s lead to two again (4-2).

The tide once again swung back the Wreckers’ way at 11:18 when Nussbaum blasted home a shot from the point,which got through everybody including Muller.

SWS was running a power-play at the time. Mendillo began the action, getting the puck to Shelton’s Ryan Johnson, who, in turn, brought it back over to Nussbaum.

Whatever temporary edge the Wreckers had vanished at 1:35 of the third when Denham re-directed a David DeMao shot through Englehart’s pads.

Denham finished the job with an empty-netter off a Dushay pass with 3.5 seconds left.

“With our three lines, I think we gradually wore them down,” said Townsend, who’s team met No. 4 seed E.O. Smith/Tolland-Windham in the semifinals.

“I’m just very proud of this group of kids,” Sharrin said. “We weren’t expected to win that many games let alone make the state playoffs. They did it through hard work and determination.”

The Wreckers only dressed 17 players for any one game.

Johnson, who finished as the team’s fourth-leading scorer with 31 points (on 14 goals along with 17 assists) was one of four team members from Shelton.

The other three were Evan Mancini, R.J. Gupta and Owen Engledrum.

Mendillo led a team which defeated one Division I school (Greenwich) and tied another (St. Joseph of Trumbull) with 54 points (31-23). Nussbaum added 47 (24-23) and Eric Zurmuehle had 39 (10-29).

The team’s senior goalie, Englehart allowed 67 goals in 22 games (3.04 goals-against average) and made 364 save (for an .844 save percentage).

Zurmuehle is the only senior among the team’s four leading scorers.

The Wreckers, whose 13 losses included nine to either Division I or Division II programs graduate five players.