Before the season began, Staples-Weston-Shelton coach Ralph Unker spoke confidently about his team returning to Yale's Ingalls Rink, the site of the state semifinals and finals.
Now, a little over two months later, those hopes appear bleak, at best.
Following an 8-5 loss to Fairfield co-op on Wednesday at Wonderland of Ice, Staples sits at 4-10 overall. The Wreckers have dropped four straight and nine of their last 10.
With just six games remaining, it will be an uphill fight for Staples just to make the state tournament, let alone reach the semifinals.
"It doesn't look that good now, unfortunately," Unker said. "I expected a lot better showing in the season."
Staples' start was full of optimism -- 3-1 in four games, albeit against four Division-III opponents -- but the plummeted ever since. A 6-5 overtime loss to Brookfield-Bethel-Danbury on Jan. 3 set off a string of five straight losses, in which they were outscored 32-15.
Their lone win this calendar year came on Jan. 23 against one-win Norwalk-McMahon, a team that's scored just 14 goals in 13 games.
"We started out in the preseason, we tied Branford, we beat North Haven and we handily beat King," Unker said. "We came into the year, we had a bad first game (9-3 loss to Newington-Berlin-Manchester), but we turned it around with three straight wins.
"We haven't been able to keep the puck out of the net since."
Opponents have continued to pile up goals on Staples during the current four-game skid. Division-I powers St. Joseph and Darien crushed the Wreckers 11-0 and 12-3, respectively, and Trinity Catholic -- a 4-8-2 Division II team -- beat them 7-4.
"It's really tough," Unker said. "There's games we played we're up 2-0, and then next thing you know, we're down 5-2."
On Wednesday, Staples scored on its first shot -- just 45 seconds in, courtesy of Thomas Meyers -- but Fairfield quickly answered back with three first-period goals. In total, the Mustangs beat Staples goalie William Englehart eight times on 40 shots.
Two years removed from a Division-III state runner-up, Staples has, at times, struggled to dress a full three lines this season, due to a number of factors. The Wreckers dressed just 11 skaters on Wednesday, as two players were sick, two faced discipline, one player was injured and another player was "taken off the team by his parent," Unker noted.
Back on Jan. 12, in a 8-3 loss at Greenwich, the Wreckers dressed just nine skaters because of a school dance, injuries and suspensions, the latter stemming from a fight that occurred during a loss at Stamford on Jan. 5.
Being shorthanded hasn't helped Staples, in games or in practice.
"We've had numerous occasions where we've lost players to injuries, illness, suspensions and stuff like that," said junior forward Sean Stewart, who scored twice on Wednesday. "It's been hard to start playing like a team again. We've had practices with not that many kids there.
"It's hard to gel when you don't have practice with a full team."
Time is running out fast on the Wreckers, and at this point, it looks like their return to Ingalls will have to wait another year.
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