With three of last year’s four top goal-scorers off its roster, the Stony Brook hockey team faced the question of who would lead the offensive charge in 2017-18.
Now, just seven games into the season, the team may have found their answer in freshman forward Ian Bernes.
Bernes has opened his Seawolves career on a goal-scoring tear, finding the net seven times in as many games this season. He spent the past three seasons playing for the Jersey Hitmen of the U.S. Premier Hockey League Elite, where he totaled 28 goals and 56 points in 72 games.
“I think it was such an easy transition because the systems are very alike,” Bernes said. “We liked to do a lot of [shooting] with the Hitmen and we kind of play the same style here so it was an easy transition from team to team.”
Bernes has not been alone in his impressive start to the campaign. Fourteen of the team’s 34 goals so far have come from freshmen. Bernes and his freshman forward linemates Keith O’Brien and Charles Peck have combined for 15 points.
“I think all three of us, as a line, we can just move the puck really well,” Bernes said. “We all have the same sense on the ice of trying not to flood one side but get movement out of the zone. We all have a lot of speed so we can put goals in the net.”
Bernes’ production may have come as a surprise to some, but head coach Chris Garofalo was not shocked by his impressive start.
“I first watched Ian a few years ago,” Garofalo said. “I saw his type of style of play; he has a very strong offensive touch. He battled some injuries last year during his last year of junior hockey and it kind of set him back, but after he acclimated to the level and the first month of getting back into the swing of things, I started noticing in practice the things he was doing. He brings a knack for the net and he has good skills. He’s a unique player.”
The freshman’s start has been impressive to say the least, but Garofalo says that there is always room for improvement.
“He’s got tremendous upside if he’s willing to do the right things to get better,” Garofalo said. “One thing he needs to do is focus away from the rink on the gym. Getting stronger and getting faster, those are the things that can make him an even more dynamic player than he is already.”
If he keeps up with his current scoring pace, Bernes is on pace to finish the regular season with 32 goals. This would give him the second highest single-season goal total in the team’s Eastern Schools Collegiate Hockey League Division I history, behind only Ryan Cotcamp, who netted 33 in the 2013-14 season. For now, Bernes’ focus is just playing in the moment and improving wherever he can.
“As a player, I think I can get better defensively in our zone,” Bernes said. “I can work on helping out the [defensemen] a little more. I think my strength on the ice right now might just be my vision to see the plays happening in my mind before I make them. I feel like I’m just having split second ability to make a play.”
Foresight on the ice may come naturally for Bernes, but he never thought that his rookie campaign would start out as successfully as it has thus far.
“No one can really foresee something like that happening,” Bernes said. “You just have to work hard and see the results on the ice. I’m just going to try to keep playing my game. Me and my linemates have been on fire lately, and if we can keep that up, we can really do a lot for the team this season.”