In the four-year span of 2013–2016, Stony Brook Hockey was not just a force to be reckoned with; it was a dynasty.
As Eastern States Collegiate Hockey League champions for four consecutive seasons and runners up for the 2015 American Collegiate Hockey Association national championship, the Seawolves were one of the most dominant forces in club hockey. After two consecutive ESCHL championship losses, however, it’s safe to say the Seawolves’ glory days are behind them.
Now, with just three players from its last championship team still in the lineup and a largely revamped roster, Stony Brook is ready to re-establish itself as one of the top teams in the country.
“We have a really good team,” head coach Chris Garofalo said. “I think offensively we’re going to do much better, I don’t feel that we’ll have that drought that we had last year where we couldn’t score. And our [defense], if you look at our stats from last year, two of our top four scorers were defensemen. We’re not going to have that problem this year.”
2016-17 was an adjustment season for the Seawolves. After losing 2017 graduates JT Hall and Chris Stemke, who accounted for over 30 percent of Stony Brook’s offense in 2016-17, the team struggled to fill the void that their offensive presence left behind. Now a combination of talented returners such as junior forward Devon Palmieri and senior defenseman Frank Coscia and promising recruits including junior forward Nick Belger, will start the season on the first line.
“We’ve got a really good team in front of us,” Garofalo said. “If the guys buy into the system and they really execute the way we want them to, and I know they’re capable… then we have a really good team.
The Seawolves are expected to shift away from the run-and-gun system of the past toward a more defensive-minded approach. With a scoring by committee offense and no singular offensive leader to count on in key moments, it will be important to limit the opposition’s chances and keep the goals against to a minimum.
“We’re implementing systems that are more geared toward a team defense,” Garofalo said. “We’re having the third man stay extra high in the offensive zone so he’s back with the [defense] so we’re trying to implement things that will support our D this year.”
Coscia will likely lead the way on defense again this season. The senior led all Stony Brook defensemen in 2017-18 with 25 points and 12 goals, with eight of the goals coming in the second half of the season. After missing nationals due to his younger sister’s funeral, Coscia says he is more driven than ever to win a national championship this year.
“I had my flight booked for when they won, I was ready to get out [to Nationals],” Coscia said about his dedication to the team. “It’s going to be a big year to not even go out with a bang, but to try and respect her in the best way I can because I know she would want me to just have fun and continue playing to the best extent that I could.”
Coscia’s dedication to the Seawolves is something that many of the players have in common. The majority continued to train through the majority of the offseason and have shown improvement in the opening weeks of training camp. Newly-appointed captain senior forward Brad Riccardi says that he’s happy with the way the team has progressed so far.
“I think the compete level has been really high,” Riccardi said. “I’m definitely excited to get into the start of the season and get in the mix and have the season in full swing. Training camp, I think, went very well. For the most part everyone understood the systems very quickly and I think the chemistry started to click sooner than we all expected.”
The biggest question mark for the Seawolves is in the crease. Last year’s number one and two goalies, Payne Yoder and Brandon Rathwell, both hung up their skates this summer after two years with the team for personal reasons, leaving junior goalie Richard Shipman and sophomore goalie Robby Lockwood to carry the load. To supplement the loss of Yoder and Rathwell, Stony Brook brought in junior goalie Sean Keating from NCAA DIII SUNY Plattsburgh.
“Once again Garo did a great job recruiting,” Coscia said. “Keating’s a huge pickup for us. He’s quick, he plays the puck, he [communicates well on the ice]. He’s not the biggest guy in the world but he moves like a big guy.”
It is unclear which of the three goalies will be in net to start the season, but a lower-body injury sustained in practice could sideline Lockwood for opening weekend when the team hosts William Paterson University. The Seawolves understand that after the past two years of falling short in the ESCHL playoffs, it is never too early to begin preparing for the tournament and employing a playoff mindset.
“The last two years sucked,” Garofalo said. “We lost last year by a goal and the year before we got smoked. We want that title back from Liberty and I think it’s going to be a different season for us this year. I really do.”
The Seawolves kick off their season with a weekend set against the Pioneers on Saturday, Oct. 6 at 8:30 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 7 at 3:30 p.m. at The Rinx in Hauppauge.
Player to watch: Sean Keating
Keating comes to Stony Brook after a year in NCAA DIII with SUNY Plattsburgh. Though he didn’t see any action in his time there, the junior, who Garofalo described as “a stud,” owns impressive stats from his time in the North American Hockey League, including a .919 save percentage in 18 games with the Pembroke Lumber Kings. The absence of a clear number-one goalie to start the season could create an opportunity for Keating to step up and claim the net.