Masuk boys hockey falls to Staples in state tourney

A rather long and often difficult season came to an end for the Masuk High boys hockey team on Monday night when the Panthers lost a Division III state tournament first-round game to top-seed Staples of Westport, 6-1, at the Milford Ice Pavilion.

Masuk had earned the 16th and final seed for the tournament by winning two of its final three regular-season games and edging Joel Barlow of Redding.

The Panthers got off to a good start on Monday against the Wreckers by scoring the game’s first goal at the eight-minute mark of the first period. But after that, Staples’ overall speed and highly organized play was a little too much for Masuk, which ended its season with a 4-17-0 record.

“One of the positives of this season was winning a late-season game to get that last (state tournament) position,” said veteran Masuk coach Andy Townsend. “And scoring first tonight was also a plus. But we needed to build something off of it and we never did.”

The Panthers’ Bill Ferraro happened to be in the right place as linemate Brock Butkovsky fired the puck on goal from the left of Staples goalie Zach Bloom. The pass either tipped in off of Ferraro’s stick or hit his skate and slid past Bloom for a 1-0 Masuk lead midway through the first period.

It was the only shot that would elude Bloom, who had a relatively quiet night in needing to make only nine saves.

The Wreckers needed only 17 seconds to respond, getting the equalizer when defenseman Casten Ernberg scored unassisted at 8:17.

“That was a huge goal for us,” said Staples coach Chris Avena, who, after taking over the program last year in a struggling season (the Wreckers won only five games), is hoping to get them back to Ingalls Rink at Yale University for next week’s semifinal round.

“If we don’t get that goal and the game goes another four or five minutes and we don’t score, it could’ve been a very different outcome,” said Avena.

Instead, the Wreckers — after getting only five shots on Masuk junior goalie Tag Weiss in the opening period — peppered him with shots in both the second and third periods.

Staples got three second-period goals and added two more in the third to close out the 6-1 win, improve its record to 13-6-3, and advance to Thursday night’s quarterfinal-round game against eighth-seed Newington, which defeated ninth-seed Housatonic Regional/Northwest Regional/Wamogo, 3-2, in another first-round game Monday.

In the second period, Staples got two straight goals from Ryan Purgay (at 1:30 and 5:48) before Purgay, a second-line forward, assisted on a score by Zach Strober that made it 4-1 with 6:51 left in the period.

Staples outshot Masuk, 15-3, in the second period and eventually finished with a 32-9 advantage.

The Wreckers added to their lead on Cam Day’s goal at 7:06 of the third period and finished the scoring when Matt Bidgood converted on a power play with just under three minutes left.

Masuk’s tough night was epitomized by Colin Raymond, who, after getting wide open in front of Bloom, launched a shot that hit the left post and skidded away.

“If that had gone in, it would’ve made it a 4-2 game at the time,” said Townsend. “How much of a difference it might’ve made is questionable. But it would’ve helped.”

Weiss made 26 saves in goal for Masuk as his defenders had a tough time clearing the puck.

Purgay, who missed his entire junior year due to illness, has given the Wreckers great balance. He filled in as the team’s leading scorer during a stretch when Sam New, who began the year with 152 career points, was out with a lower-body injury.

“Ryan has been going lately and he’s been our go-to guy,” said Avena. “He’s a high energy player who is smart and gets pucks to the net. We’ve also gotten great goal-tending from Zach. He’s been very consistent, especially in our games with Division I teams in the FCIAC. I think these guys, our seniors, are hungry. They want another chance at a championship.”

They all were sophomores when Staples lost to Stamford-Westhill, 5-4, in the 2016 Division III title game.

Meanwhile, Masuk will lose only six seniors going forward.

“We competed and had a schedule that included eight games against either Division I or II teams,” said Townsend, whose team fell to Staples, 3-1, during the regular season. “We didn’t win any of them. But we put in a good showing in many.”

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