By Eliot Schickler

Nothing was going to deter the Staples-Weston-Shelton co-op boys hockey team Wednesday.

Missing three key players because of illness or injuries and facing a chippy Suffield-Granby-Windsor Locks co-op team also didn't impede Staples. Suffield kept the puck in the Wreckers' end for the most part while outshooting them, 51-17. But in the end, Staples overcame everything and pulled out a 4-3 home victory at Milford Ice Pavilion to raise its record to 5-0. The Wildcats dropped to 4-4.

"We became a team today," Wreckers coach Ralph Unker said. "I told them in between periods and during timeouts that it's all for one and one for all."

Staples was missing senior captain Aaron Liu (seven goals in three games), who was out with a hairline fracture, junior defenseman Liam O'Leary, who was sick, and freshman Jack Mendillo, who suffered a head injury. In addition, Unker benched an unnamed period for the first period for violating a team rule.

With all the absences, the Wreckers had only 10 skaters and Unker had to move junior Zach Speed over to defense, who played well there. He was impressed with O'Leary and senior assistant captain Andrew Pfefferle, who played his typical solid game on defense.

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"Andrew Pfefferle showed great leadership," Unker said.

Suffield took a 1-0 lead with 12:11 remaining in the game when senior Mike Thompson scored from senior Dylan Rupp and freshman Jake King.

However, Staples found its bearings and tied it, 1-1, on sophomore Eric Zurmuehle's goal with 5:00 left. Less than two minutes later, sophomore Matt Weisgerber scored from classmate Owen Engeldrum to give the Wreckers a 2-1 lead.

That lead was precarious because the Wildcats kept firing away, but Staples senior captain goalie Riley MacDonald (48 saves) made save after save. MacDonald robbed Suffield on many chances and off a variety of shots.

"It got tough, but the team worked hard in front of me, and I tried to do my job," MacDonald said. "I had it in my mindset and stepped it up."

Wrecker sophomore Sean Stewart stole the puck, walked in and scored with 10:34 left in the second period to extend the lead to two, 3-1.

Junior Wyatt Fern helped Staples on faceoffs and senior captain Forrest Savage delivered a few checks and attacked the net. Both had opportunities but Wildcat senior goalie Nick Burgio (13 saves) stopped their shots.

However, the Wildcats kept pushing, and a penalty on the Wreckers with 57.8 seconds remaining in the second period, planted the seed for the visitors. Only 15 seconds into the third period, Thompson fired in a power play goal from senior Ryan Dineen and King.

Less than a minute later with the teams at full strength, Suffield senior Ryan Kertanis stole the puck and fired home a one-timer to tie it, 3-3.

Things looked precarious for Staples when Savage was whistled for a double minor with 12:35 to go after he knocked down Wildcat senior Jeff Lertora.

"They were hitting us with cheap shots all game and I felt I had to do something," Savage said.

With Savage in the penalty box, MacDonald made a couple of saves while Pfefferle, Speed and Zurmuehle kept on clearing the puck, which minimized Suffield's quality chances.

"Obviously, it's tough making the saves in those situations, but the guys made the plays," MacDonald said.

Unker said, "Riley MacDonald played phenomenally."

With 8:47 left, Wildcat senior Tom Padrevita was assessed a roughing penalty. Shortly thereafter, Savage came off the ice and with 8:20 to go, stole the puck on the left wing, walked in and scored a power play goal to make it 4-3.

"I was ready to go when I went back on the ice," Savage said. "It was personal and the goal was personal as well. I was pissed and I wanted to do something. I had a clear shot and the goalie's right side was open."

Staples was assessed a bench minor with 4:07 remaining when assistant coach Dale Wehmhoff yelled at the referee because he felt the game wasn't called fairly. MacDonald made the saves, while Fern and Savage pushed it out a couple of times.

"Riley played a phenomenal game and was our best player," Savage said. "He kept us in the game and was great having him in net. He's a real leader."

The Wreckers hope to carry the momentum from the win.

"It gives us confidence we can beat anyone," MacDonald said.

Unker said, "They gave every ounce of what they have, which is why we won."