MILFORD—Inches away from the school’s first state championship since 1981, the Staples-Weston-Shelton boys hockey team is back and hungry to make amends. The Wreckers are moving up in weight class, though, and head to battle with a new head coach.

Chris Avena takes over from Todd Sharinn, who resigned after going 36-31-1 in three seasons. The former St. Bernard and East Haven coach works at Northford Ice Pavilion and believes his team is capable of competing at the Division II level.

Staples did graduate a number of top-liners — including Jesse Greenspun, Ryan Johnson and Ian Offenberg — who helped build the program during their four years with the team that peaked with last season’s 15-9 record and trip to the Division III final. Scoring may not come as freely as it did a year ago when the Wreckers averaged 4.3 goals per game, but a pair of players could ensure the wins still come.

"I think the experience from last year; we’re trying to use it as much as possible," Avena said. "We want them to understand what it’s going to take at a higher division to get back to the same place that they were last year. I think their experience in going through that is going to help."

Junior Sam New has done nothing but score since taking the ice as a freshman and will likely be counted on even more with the graduation of his linemates. Avena is pleased with what he’s seen thus far, and admits finding the right combination on the top line is a work in progress.

"Sam is a great pure scorer and he certainly knows the game," Avena said. "We’re just trying to figure out what pieces fit around him on the ice at this point."

The other asset for Staples is in net, where junior Zack Bloom returns for another season between the pipes.

"He’s had a great preseason," Avena said. "he’s kept himself mentally together and he’s made some great saves even though the pressure isn’t high yet. I’m very happy with what he’s brought."

The Wreckers — who are captained by Sam Zaritsky, Sebastian Zeman and Evan Mancini — have several underclassmen with experience who should play key roles. Chris Cyr, Ryan Purgay, Carsten Ernberg and Brian Gray will be key contributors. Avena said the team should be able to have three solid lines capable of contributing.

Staples opens the season on Saturday at Milford Ice Pavilion against Branford, which reached the Division II quarterfinals in 2016. The Wreckers also battle both Division II finalists — Fairfield co-op (now in Division I) and North Branford — this winter.

Avena won’t be the only new face on the bench for the Wreckers this winter. Longtime Fairfield Prep and ND-Fairfield coach Marty Roos was named director of operations and will help Avena lead the team. Roos holds the record for the most wins in state history.

"He’s basically our player development guy," Avena said. "He’s a phenomenal asset to have on our side; he gives us his tidbits of what he sees with his expertise."

rlacey@bcnnew.com, twitter.com/ryanlacey11