It has been over two months since the Stony Brook hockey team last strung together two wins in a single weekend. The Seawolves have won just five of 12 games in 2018 after posting a .825 winning percentage through the first 20 games of the season. Though the second half has been disappointing, the Seawolves have a chance to flip the script this weekend at the Eastern States Collegiate Hockey League tournament.
The Seawolves, who finished the regular season first in the ESCHL’s North Division, head to West Chester, Pennsylvania this weekend in search of the club’s fifth league championship in six seasons. Since joining the ESCHL in 2011-12, Stony Brook has never lost a semi-final game, a streak they will look to extend on Saturday at 7:00 p.m. It won’t be easy for the Seawolves, however, as they will face the New York University Violets in the semi-final game, who swept the Seawolves two weeks ago.
“You set the tone for the first 10 minutes of the game,” head coach Chris Garofalo said regarding how to negate NYU’s confidence. “You show them that that wasn’t the real Stony Brook. We have to come out flying, we have to be physical, we have to put as many shots as we can on their net, and hopefully bang a few in right away. That will shut down their hopes.”
The Seawolves’ adversity extends far beyond matchup issues. Their season has been plagued by key injuries, with three players currently out of the lineup. The most impactful subtraction has likely been sophomore starting goaltender Payne Yoder, who has been out since Jan. 19 with a lower-body injury. Freshman goalie Robby Lockwood and sophomore goalies Richard Shipman and Brandon Rathwell have all taken turns in the crease in Yoder’s absence, but Garofalo will look to Rathwell heading into the tournament.
“Rathwell’s biggest attribute is he’s a big goalie who plays the angles very well,” Garofalo said. “His biggest attribute, besides that, is his puck movement. It’s like having a third [defenseman]. He stops the puck when it gets wrapped around [the net] and he also will get the puck and make a play to the D. It gets us out of our zone a lot faster.”
Rathwell will likely be in need of goal-support if Stony Brook is to take down NYU, which averages 4.42 goals per game. After shuffling lines in last Saturday’s win against the Rhode Island, Garofalo is hopeful that his offence, which has eclipsed four goals just once in the past 10 contests, will produce at a higher level than it has of late.
“We won the game Saturday with new lines but I’m also not 100 percent sold on that,” Garofalo said. “I saw things that could have been improved and we’re trying to find the right formula and combinations. Last night we changed them up and based upon last night’s practice, I think we’re going to go with a few different lines.”
Leading the charge could likely be upperclassmen, who have been around long enough to know what it takes to win a championship. Senior forward Brendan Calello ranks first on the team with 26 points in 30 games, senior defenceman and captain Frank Sherding is tied for third on the team with a +2 rating, and senior forward Ori Benyamini is second on the team with .83 points per game.
“When you’re a senior you put it all on the line,” Garofalo said. “You know that this could be the last game for your career and you want to go out on top. I wouldn’t expect anything less from the seniors like Sherding, Calello and Ori to come out flying, know that this is their last hurrah and leave it all out there.”
If Stony Brook survives Saturday’s matchup to earn a championship berth, the deciding game will take place on Sunday at 1:00 p.m. There, they could potentially be in for a rematch with the defending champion Liberty Flames, who ended the Seawolves dynastic run of four consecutive championships last February.
“It’s not only last year, it’s this year,” Garofalo said. “They beat us three out of four times this year. It’s kind of like a role reversal from last year. Last year, we were seeded above them going into the tournament and they came out and they beat us, so maybe we’ll have the same type of fortune that they had last year.”
This past Wednesday, the American Collegiate Hockey Association released its second-to-last league rankings for 2017-18, which determined the teams who will participate in this year’s national tournament in Columbus, Ohio this March. Ranked No. 15 in the nation, Stony Brook will vie for a first ACHA national championship in two weeks. For now, however, the team’s focus is on winning this Saturday’s semi-final game.
“We’re not looking at nationals right now,” Garofalo said. “We’re not even thinking about Sunday, we’re thinking about tomorrow. Right now were focused on playing NYU and that’s our focus until tomorrow. I want to win a league championship and this weekend’s a chance to do that.”