Wrecker icemen skate past Norwalk

The Staples-Weston-Shelton co-op boys hockey team didn't have an easy game with the Norwalk-Brien McMahon co-op team last Thursday. Staples, who normally wrapped up its games against Norwalk by the middle of the second period in recent years, only led by a goal after two periods at its home rink -- The Rinks at Shelton.

However, the Wreckers have one lethal line with senior captain Tali Laifer and junior captains Kyle Wehmhoff and Aaron Liu, that could change the complexity of the game and this line took care of business in the third period to establish distance and win, 7-3. Staples raised its record to 12-5 and dropped the vastly-improved Bears to 4-13 while eliminating them from the Division III State playoffs in the process.

"It wasn't one of our best performances and it was lackluster at best," Wreckers Coach Ralph Unker said. "It's tough to motivate the team for certain games and it was a ho-hum affair. Hopefully, we can work out the kinks for the upcoming tough games."

The Wreckers controlled play and outshot Norwalk, 49-23. After a relatively even first period where Staples had an 11-9 shots on goal edge, the Wreckers started to pour on the shots after that in outshooting the Bears 20-9 in the second period and 18-5 in the third period.

Staples took a 1-0 lead with 12:58 remaining in the first period when Laifer poked home the rebound Liu's shot. Norwalk senior goalie Danny Diaz made the initial stop on Liu from point-blank range but Laifer was there to poke home the rebound. Wrecker junior captain Kyle Wehmhoff started the play and was also credited with an assist.

"Kyle fed Aaron who fed me and it was a one-time shot," Laifer said. "I knew there was a defender on me and I shot it once I got the puck."

Diaz (42 saves) kept the Bears in the game with many saves from point-blank range, robbing Wehmhoff, Laifer and Liu, who are renowned as one of the top lines in the region. He also stymied junior Forrest Savage.

"They have a great first line and I played youth hockey with all three of them," Diaz said. "All three are great players, I respect them and I wanted to shut them down because I felt we'd have a chance to win if I shut them down."

Wehmhoff and Laifer tried to slap them home in the first period but Diaz made the difficult saves, which gave the Bears a chance to win. Laifer apparently gave the Wreckers a 2-0 lead when it looked like his shot went over the goal line with 2:29 left, but the referee ruled no goal.

"Based on what I saw, I thought the puck crossed the line," Laifer said. "I didn't see it fully but I thought it went in."

Meanwhile, Norwalk had a few chances of its own. Bears junior forward Rocco Bocchetta rifled two shots from point-blank range but Staples senior captain Mark Blake-Lobb (20 saves) stopped him both times. Blake Lobb also made a nice save on senior co-captain Dylan Byrne.

Senior co-captain Lucas Aubrey, classmate Nick LeBlanc and junior Jake Lopez-Balboa all delivered crushing checks for Norwalk. With .6 second to go in the period, Bocchetta poked in Byrne's rebound off of a faceoff for a shorthanded goal to tie it 1-1. LeBlanc started the play and was also credited with an assist.

Aubrey had a chance to give the Bears the lead but Blake-Lobb robbed him in the second period. Blake-Lobb also stonewalled juniors Patrik Odierno and Mike McRoy on a couple of golden opportunities.

Wreckers senior alternate captain Ben Brancucci had an opportunity on the other end but Diaz stymied him. Diaz then flustered Wehmhoff from point-blank range on what looked like to be a sure shot.

Liu broke the tie with 3:09 left in the second period from the top of the slot after receiving a sliding pass from Wehmhoff. Laifer started the play.

"Kyle held it long enough and drew the goalie out and I had a wide open shot," Liu said. "It gave us momentum because we capitalized on our chance and we never looked back after that."

Staples made it 3-1 only 15 seconds later when freshman Sean Stewart poked in a shot from sophomore Wyatt Fern. Brancucci started the play by feeding Fern.

Odierno made it 3-2 on a backhander from LeBlanc and senior Andrew Avitabile with 1:57 to go.

Wehmhoff scored four goals in the third period to change the course of the game, giving Staples breathing room.

"I got a lot of help from my teammates, Aaron, Dan Guerrera," Wehmhoff said. "Aaron picked up his head, saw me and gave me the puck."

Laifer said, "We kind of took control in the third period and Kyle was on the receiving end for our goals."

The junior captain scored from senior captain Dan Guerrera and Laifer with 14:06 remaining and 2:03 later from Liu and Laifer to give Staples a 5-2 lead.

"Kyle and I have been friends for a long time and I have great respect for him," Diaz said. "After Kyle got one in the third period, we weren't able to get him out of the box."

Norwalk didn't quit and McCroy knocked in Avitabile's rebound with 7:06 left to make it 5-3.

In the end, the Bears couldn't stop Wehmhoff, who scored from Liu and Laifer with 5:30 to go and 2:09 later, from Guerrera and Laifer.

"I don't think we played well but we were able to finish," Liu said.

The Wreckers raised their record to 13-5 Saturday with a 6-1 home victory over Fitch-East Lyme-Ledyard. Wehmhoff led the offense with two goals. Liu, Guerrera, Fern and freshman Owen Engeldrum each had a goal. Stewart and Liu each had two assists while Laifer, Fern and freshmen Eric Zurmuehle and Jeff Burns each had an assist.

Senior alternate captain Luke Andriuk had four saves and Blake-Lobb stopped six shots. Junior Riley MacDolald made three saves and allowed a goal and freshman Zac Polin made four saves.