When Stony Brook Hockey raised its sticks after Saturday night’s 6-3 win over Rhode Island, the Seawolves’ record was raised to 4-0.
This served as a reminder to the entire ACHA that the Seawolves will be a national contender again after being runners-up last season and semifinalists two seasons ago.
But for the packed rink in attendance this weekend, the players’ helmet ribbons and bright orange laces highlighted an even bigger battle this season: former Seawolves captain and forward Sam Brewster’s battle with leukemia.
Brewster, a 2015 Stony Brook graduate, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia this year, a rare but treatable cancer of the white blood cells. The 2015-16 Seawolves Hockey season has been dedicated to Brewster’s fight, which was brought to focus on Saturday’s cancer awareness night at The Rinx in Hauppauge.
“He’s all-around a great kid and a great person,” junior forward and current captain J.T. Hall said. “Pumping people up for a game, helping you when you need it the most, giving you a pat on the back. He’s always there for you. That’s why we’re out here trying to support him.”
Brewster’s ex-coach also had nothing but praise for his ex-captain.
“Sam is the definition of hard work,” head coach Chris Garofalo said. “If you could put pictures in the dictionary under [hard work], it would be his picture.”
Hockey serves as a microcosm of Brewster’s determined spirit. While most hockey players first put on the skates at the age of four or five, Brewster did not first hit the ice until he was 15, having been a more natural football and baseball player growing up in Plano, Texas.
“The one sport he didn’t [initially] excel in was hockey,” Garofalo said. “He’s found that he likes challenges, and hockey was a challenge for him. He wanted to do it because it wasn’t something he was naturally good at.”
The effort paid off for the forward, who represented the United States in the World University Games in Granada, Spain, in February and helped Stony Brook reach the national ACHA finals as a captain.
Off the ice, Brewster’s accolades are just as impressive. He graduated in 2015 with a 3.4 GPA, scored in the top three percent of his LSAT and received a full scholarship to law school at the University of Wisconsin, from which he has temporarily withdrawn to focus on his treatment.
“When I think about what he’s going through right now, not that you want anybody to have this terrible disease, he’s the one guy that I’m 100 percent confident that he’s going to beat this,” Garofalo said. “He’s such a determined individual.”
Nearly half of the Seawolves this season are freshmen or transfers, but the players that knew him look at Brewster unequivocally as a role model. Brewster’s father rallied up the team with a locker room speech about his son Friday night before their 6-4 win, unifying the squad to fight for Sam.
“The guys, even though some of them don’t know him personally, he’s just an icon,” Garofalo said. “We’re playing the way he plays. We’re playing Sam’s style of hockey.”
“We have a chip on our shoulder now,” Hall said, “knowing that he’s watching and we’re fighting for him the way he’s fighting leukemia.”
Stony Brook dominated play Saturday night, outshooting the Rams 39-24. Hall led the way with a pair of first period goals and the end-result was never really in question.
“I told the guys I’m not looking for a perfect game,” Garofalo said. “But I am looking for a perfect effort.”
The Seawolves demonstrated that kind of effort on the ice Saturday; the kind of effort that would make Sam Brewster proud.
FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT: ADRIAN SZKOLAR