MILFORD >> A year after not making the state tournament, the Staples-Weston-Shelton boys’ ice hockey team made the most of finally being back in the postseason Monday evening.
Led by two goals apiece from Ryan Johnson and Jack Mendillo, and five assists from senior Eric Zurmuehle, No. 8 Staples cruised past No. 9 Lyman Hall/Haddam-Killingworth at the Milford Ice Pavilion, posting a 6-2 victory in the first round the Division III State Tournament.
“It was exciting. I know they had a lot of fans today I don’t think they’re accustomed to that. Obviously we had a lot of emotion for some of our seniors,” Staples head coach Todd Sharinn said. “It was obvious he (Zurmuehle) wanted anything but to lose here. I’m proud of the energy we put forth.”
Staples (9-12-1) will now face No. 1 Masuk on Thursday in the quarterfinals.
Staples, playing in front of a large and raucous crowd, jumped out a 2-0 advantage in the opening period. Mendillo found the back of the net midway through the period and Zurmuehle zipped one past Lyman Hall goalie Zach O’Toole with less than 30 seconds remaining off an assist from Owen Engledrum.
Lyman Hall, however, came out firing in the second period and cut Staples’ lead in half off a shot from Nick Baccaro at the 8:47 mark.
The pivotal score, however, came for Staples with 5:08 remaining in the second. Johnson was positioned just right as the puck came to him from Zurmuehle and he flicked it in for the 3-1 lead.
“That was huge,” Johnson said. “I mean that’s all Eric. It hit off his skate and he did the right thing, he tried to hog and it came right to me. It was all luck.”
Added Sharinn: “Ryan is the little train that could, he’s just unreal.”
Call it luck or just heads up hockey but that clearly granted Staples momentum that carried over to the third period. Staples added two more goals early in the period – as Mendillo and Johnson scored less than two minutes of each other.
Lyman Hall’s CJ Tangredi scored with 10:20 left in the contest, but the Trojans couldn’t get anything else. Staples’ Will Englehart thwarted any opportunites the rest of the game as he had a superb game in the net.
Though it wasn’t the cleanest game — Sharinn felt the play was sloppy at times — Staples got the job done and will and battle the top team in division III.
“It’s going to be a hard one to guess,” Sharinn said. “I wouldn’t want to bet on it. I think if our guys come out and play the way they did against Greenwich or St Joes, or Wilton, or even Ridgefield, I think we’re going to be just fine.”
Added Johnson: “It’s going to be something. It’s going to be a good game.”