MILFORD --Clinging to a 1-0 lead late in the second period, the Staples/Weston/Shelton boys hockey team turned its game against Tri-Town completely in its favor with three goals in span of 1:38. Those quick strikes provided a 4-0 advantage, which Staples carried into the third period en route to a 6-1 win at Milford Ice Pavilion on Monday.
With the triumph, Staples earned its eighth win and clinched a berth in the state tournament, skating off with a record of 8-8-1. Tri-Town, which is based out of Enfield, remains in playoff contention, but fell to 6-8-1.
Staples, in the eyes of first-year coach Todd Sharinn, has exceeded expectations.
"This has been an unbelievable season," Sharinn said. "We were predicted not even to be able to get two wins. I'm very proud of the way they've approached everything."
"It's a big thing for us. Last year wasn't our best year," added sophomore center Derek Nussbaum, who had two of the second-period, game-changing goals.
R.J. Gupta made it 2-0 with 1:58 to play, and then Nussbaum made his presence truly felt with a pair of goals only five seconds apart. He one-timed a feed across the low slot from Mendillo to make it 3-0 with 1:25 to play in the period. Mendillo won the ensuing faceoff and Nussbaum gathered the puck, skated it from his right wing position over the blue line and unleashed a hard wrist shot to increase the lead.
Johnson scored a pair of third-period goals, the first of which was set up by Zurmuehle, and the second of which was assisted by Nussbaum and Greenspun and came on the power play with just eight seconds to play.
Staples outshot Tri-Town 33-22 and Wreckers goaltender Will Englehart made 21 saves.
The goal-scoring outburst was welcomed by a team that had lost three straight games.
"The kids have been snake-bitten for weeks now," said Sharinn, adding that injuries and illness has taken a toll on the lineup. The team was still shorthanded on the bench in this contest but had two players back who had been missing in recent contests.
Nussbaum thought the keys to the win were passing and breakouts. He added that forward lines played well as units.
Sharinn agreed. "The lines played well and moved the puck well," the coach said.
The Wreckers have three games left this season: A Feb. 19 skate with New Canaan, and Feb. 24 and 26 home games (in Milford) against Daniel Hand of Madison and Trinity Catholic, respectively.