Hit with a rash of injuries to impact seniors last season, Staples went 9-12 and lost in the first round of the Division II state tournament to Branford 4-3. Those injuries contributed to a 10-game losing streak midseason.
The Wreckers must now fill the void created by the graduation of those players, but Unker is confident in the core that he has returning.
Seniors Wyatt Fern and Zach Speed, juniors Thomas Meyers and Sean Stewart, as well as sophomores Ryan Gawricki and Jack Mendillo will be counted on to bolster the team's scoring this year. The Wreckers graduated Aaron Liu, Forrest Savage and Mike Lynch at forward.
"I think we're going to be fairly balanced," Unker said. "We definitely have four or five kids that can put the puck in the net. I think we have a good core of pieces."
"It's tough having lost Aaron Liu and Forest Savage, but I think that we'll be able to pick it up," said Speed, a captain.
Staples netted 69 goals last season.
"I don't see us getting shut out in any games--not that it can't happen--but by the same token, I don't think we're going to score eight goals every game either," Unker said. "Every game's going to be a battle and it's going to come down to not making mistakes ... and a lot of hard work."
"Depending on the game situation, I have pretty good versatility with (Zurmuehle) and (Shulman). They could play defense or forward, or both," Unker said.
"We really want to improve on our defensive-zone coverage and make sure that we keep the puck out of the net," added Zurmuehle, an assistant captain. "If we do that we'll have a good chance at succeeding."
Junior William Englehart will take over as the starting goalie in place of Riley MacDonald, who made all-FCIAC first team as a senior last year. Englehart started for a brief time last year when MacDonald was out with an injury.
"I think he's going to do well," Unker said of Englehart. "He's been working really hard. ... When he's on, we're very competitive. He can play with the best of them."
Staples, which opens its season against Newington-Berlin at the Milford Ice Pavillion on Dec. 12, has its sights set on returning to Ingalls Rink, the site of the state semifinals and finals. The Wreckers made the Division III finals two years ago and fell to Watertown-Pomperaug 4-0.
"I think this group wants to go deeper into states and at least make it to Yale," Unker said.
While Unker is confident in the roster he has, he also knows that replacing last year's seniors is a tall order.
"Losing them is huge," he said. "I put those guys on the ice against any team and they were as good, or better, than any other players. Division I, Division II, it didn't matter."
firstname.lastname@example.org; 203-255-4561 ext. 114; twitter.com/DougBonjour