Masuk upsets Wilton in Senior Night game

Luke O'Neill battles a Masuk player for the puck during Monday night's game at the Winter Garden in Ridgefield. —
Luke O'Neill battles a Masuk player for the puck during Monday night's game at the Winter Garden in Ridgefield. —

In the midst of an impressive season — and coming off a dominating 7-2 victory over Milford two days earlier — the Wilton High boys hockey team pitched a dud Monday evening on Senior Night.

A struggling Masuk team, which entered with just four wins in its first 17 games, upset the Warriors, 5-2, on their home ice at the Winter Garden in Ridgefield.

How did it happen?

Masuk plugged away, staying disciplined in warding off the speedier Wilton forwards and pouncing on its select scoring opportunities, frequently occasioned by major Wilton gaffes. The brilliant goal tending of Taggart Weiss (16 saves in the final period, 35 for the game), completed the recipe for Wilton’s demise.

“We knew he was good,” Warrior captain Dean DiNanno said about Weiss. “I think he has more saves than any high school goalie in the state. Even though Masuk hasn’t won that many games, he has helped them to stay in a lot of them.”

The out-of-character performance should in no way cast aspersions on what Wilton has done to date. With nine victories (9-8-1 overall), the Warriors have just one fewer win than in their previous three seasons combined. Still, a triumph against Masuk would have helped Wilton's bid for a home game in the fast-approaching Division III state tournament.

“The last two games of the season (Fairfield Warde/Ludlowe and Northeastern) will be big for us,” DiNanno said. “We need to win them both if we want to get home ice in the first game of the (state) playoffs.”

In the first period Monday, stronger skating gave the Warriors a clear-cut advantage that was neutralized by three penalties, two of them back-to-back. With their home fans seemingly primed for big hits and eye-popping plays, the Wilton players appeared eager to oblige. The result was a brand of non-team-oriented hockey that was neither smart, nor effective.

Even so, Wilton had a golden scoring chance on Jackson Kelly’s short-handed breakaway with less than five minutes left in the period. But Weiss stonewalled the attempt, an ominous harbinger for the Warriors.

Not only that. With less than a minute to go and Wilton continuously coughing up the puck in its own zone, Mike Bunovsky finally skimmed a shot along the ice that slithered its way through an assemblage of players and past Wilton goalie Logan Motyka for a 1-0 Masuk lead.

Things were looking up early in the second period. Though Weiss stopped another breakaway in the first minute, Wilton appeared ready to press the attack. But a five-minute boarding penalty to David Overbeeke and a concomitant 10-minute misconduct relegated the talented sophomore forward to the bench for the rest of the period.

The Warriors weathered the man-down minutes and began to assert themselves, culminating in DiNanno’s goal on a rising wrist shot from below the left circle. Kelly got the assist. But five minutes later, Sean Squibb and Kyle Cirillo somehow got loose for a two-on-none short-handed breakaway, with Squibb banging home a goalmouth pass from Cirillo for a 2-1 Masuk lead with 4:11 left in the period.

Another Wilton penalty at 1:59 hurt the Warriors as Masuk's Brendan Andros scored on an assist from Cirillo with 1:03 left.

Trailing 3-1, Wilton stormed the barricades in the third period, led by the return of Overbeeke. Again and again he raced for rink-length rushes, only to be parried by the Panther defense, which kept him to the outside.

With the Warriors controlling the tempo and on a power play, it was a surprise when Masuk got the back-breaking fourth goal. Ryan Squib chased a Wilton defenseman into a corner, took the puck away, skated toward the right side of the cage, and let fly a shot that Motyka may have misjudged.

Overbeeke gave the Warriors hope by firing in the rebound of a shot from the point on an assist from Lucas Thelen. From that point on, Wilton swarmed the Masuk defense, and when a tripping penalty was called on the Panthers with 3:50 left, the Warriors looked to be very much alive. But Masuk's penalty kill did its job, and Will Ferraro ended the scoring on an assist from Cirillo with 49 seconds left.

“Our style of play has been to struggle early in games,” Wilton head coach John Miserendino said. “Then we seem to pick things up in the second period and really get going at the end of games. Today, it was too little too late. We should have been playing in the first period the way we were in the third.”

Notes: Wilton's three seniors — DiNanno, assistant captain Brandon Jonsson, and Nick Furst — were honored at the game.

DiNanno had two goals and two assists in Wilton's 7-2 win over host Milford on Saturday.

Ryan Sorbo and Thelen each added a goal and two assists for the Warriors, and Colin Lenskold had a goal and an assist.