MILFORD — As the Grateful Dead once sang, “Such a long, long time to be gone and a short time to be there.”
The Lyman Hall ice hockey program, now in tandem with Haddam-Killingworth, was back in the state tournament after a four-year absence, but the FCIAC conglomerate of Staples-Weston-Shelton rained on the Trojans postseason parade Monday night with a 6-2 first-round CIAC Division III victory at the Milford Ice Pavilion.
The loss closed No. 9-seeded LH-HK’s season at 9-12-0. No. 8 Staples & Co. improved to 9-11-1 and advanced to play top-seeded Masuk in Thursday’s quarterfinals.
For the Trojans, it was a quick exit, yet a definite step up from last year’s 4-16 campaign, which was the first for the LH-HK partnership.
“It’s a tough loss for the seniors,” said Trojans head coach Rich Minnix. “We had a great group of guys. It’s a good turnaround we had from last year to this year. I couldn’t ask for a better group of kids to come into my first year of coaching.”
Minnix and the Trojans might have asked for a little less of Eric Zurmuehle. The senior had a hand in every one of the opposition’s goals Monday night, so much so that the team could be renamed Staples-Weston-Shelton-Zurmuehle without much trademark infringement. No. 2 had one goal and five assists for the Wreckers.
C.J Tangredi was the leading man for LH-HK. He scored one goal and set up the other.
On this night, however, the Trojans were playing catchup throughout, as the home team jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period.
First blood was drawn a little more than midway through on the power play. Jack Mendillo scored with assists from Ian Offenberg and Zurmuehle at the 8:24 mark. Zurmuehle got the second goal, this set up by Owen Engledrum, with just 28 seconds left in the frame.
The Trojans absorbed the late-period blow to cut the deficit in half 8:47 into the second stanza.
They got the job done on the power play. Nick Baccaro scored the goal with Tangredi assisting.
Zurmuehle would haunt LH/HK again, however. He had a hand in Staples-Weston-Shelton’s third goal a little less than four minutes later, setting up Ryan Johnson to refortify the Wreckers’ lead at 3-1 with 5:08 left in the second.
That’s where it stood heading into the third period, but any hopes of an LH-HK comeback were dashed early. Offenberg and Johnson scored inside the first four minutes, with Johnson’s goal coming on a power play, to push the gap to 5-1.
Tangredi answered Johnson’s strike about a minute later, with Boomer DeMorro assisting, but the Trojans got no closer than 5-2.
They tried. With over two minutes to go, the Trojans pulled goaltender Zach O’Toole, but that only resulted in Derek Nussbaum being sent away by Zurmuehle for the final goal.
O’Toole, who had a very strong season of LH-HK, posted 27 saves.
Bill Englehart had 29 for Staples/Weston/Shelton.
“It’s tough to come back from an early deficit like we had tonight,” Minnix noted.
“We gave up two power play goals tonight, too. They left it all out on the ice, though. I can’t complain a bit.”