Senior defenseman Frank Sherding (No. 27) meets with teammates on the ice in game in 2016. The hockey team looks to reclaim the conference title during the 2017-18 season. KELLY ZEGERS/STATESMAN FILE

In the world of sports, nothing fuels a team quite like unexpected defeat. Stony Brook’s hockey team experienced just that last season when they fell to the Liberty University Flames in the Eastern States Collegiate Hockey League Championship, ending the Seawolves’ four-year conference title streak. With the 2017-18 season just around the corner, getting back to the top is on everyone’s mind.

“I think we assumed that we were going to go in and win our fifth in a row,” head coach Chris Garofalo said, now in his eighth season on the bench. “What we’ve learned is that it’s not something to adjust as far as our game, it’s mental. You have to come to the rink and be prepared to play.”

In order to get back to championship form, the team will have to find a way to replace the production of former captain forward JT Hall and forward Chris Stemke, both of whom signed professional contracts in Germany after graduating in May.

“We lost about 150 points total up front,” Garofalo said. “Then we [also] lost two really solid defensemen Mike Cartwright and Alex Miller.”

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The Seawolves will look to replace important players on offense as well as on the blue line with young players such as freshman defenseman Brendan Pepe and freshman forward Joseph Slevin. Garofalo said Slevin will “bring a little East-West,” to Stony Brook’s North-South system and open up the ice for other players. Side-to-side puck movement could help the offense find different angles, providing chances for players in a tight, defensive situation.

“His effort up and down the ice is unreal,” Garofalo said. “I think he’s going to throw a lot of guys off with his abilities.”

One point of consistency this season will be in the goal crease. Amid the team’s offensive and defensive turnover, all four of Stony Brook’s 2016-17 goaltenders are returning for the 2017-18 campaign. Sophomore goalkeeper Payne Yoder, who led the team with 16 wins last season, provides stability for the Seawolves in goal. Although the squad in front of him has a new look, Yoder is not worried.

“I think we’re going to be strong defensively which is very important,” Yoder said. “Championships are won by defense and that starts from the goal out.”

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Senior Frank Sherding, one of the team’s top defensemen, enters this season as the Seawolves’ new captain. Sherding finished with 35 points and 11 goals last season, the most by any Seawolves defenseman. While this is his first year wearing the ‘C’ for Stony Brook, it is not his first time in a leadership role.

“I’ve been prepped for this a little bit. In [the Eastern Hockey League] I was a captain, high school hockey I was a captain and last year I was an assistant captain,” Sherding said. “There are leaders that are vocal guys, and then there are leaders that play on the ice, they’re game-players. I think I’m a little bit of both, on the ice and off.”

But the newly-appointed captain realizes that if he is going to go the distance with this team, it is now or never. His goal is to win a national championship this year, and he is not the only one with his sights set on the American Collegiate Hockey Association title.

“I want to win the ACHA Nationals. That’s what this program’s about,” Garofalo said. “Our conference expanded, so it’s going to be even harder to win that league championship. It’s a tough tournament, you have to be physically and mentally ready.”

New additions such as NYU and Syracuse could serve as formidable foes in an already tight conference. Stony Brook will need to get past them as well as rival Liberty to secure another ESCHL championship.

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Next weekend, we begin to find out if the Seawolves are up for the challenge when they host the Kent State Golden Flashes on Saturday, Sept. 30 at 8:30 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 1 at 12 p.m. Both games will be played at The Rinx in Hauppauge, New York.  The team will have to wait until the first weekend in November to exact vengeance against Liberty University, who defeated Stony Brook 6-1 in the ESCHL Championship game.

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