Forward Kyle Nestepny in action in the opening series against Syracuse. The Stony Brook club hockey team swept the Orange to start off the new year 2-0. PHOTO COURTESY OF DAVID HERMAN

An offensive explosion led the Stony Brook club hockey team to a perfect start to the 2022-23 season.

The Seawolves (2-0) opened their season in Syracuse, N.Y. to take on the Syracuse Orange. Stony Brook swiftly dismantled the Orange on Friday for a 9-1 victory and pulled off a big comeback on Saturday to win 6-5.       

The Stony Brook offense made its presence felt early and often in game one in a 9-1 decimation of the Orange.

The Seawolves drew first blood when forward Greg Barnych scored his first Stony Brook goal off an assist from forward Devin Pepe. A little over seven minutes later, Stony Brook tacked on another goal when forward Matt Minerva scored off another assist from Pepe and defensemen Davin Van de Zilver. 

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The Seawolves continued the offensive onslaught in the second period, notching three more goals. Six minutes into the period, forward Shawn Rainville was able to capitalize when a Syracuse defender broke their stick for his first goal of the season.

Less than eight minutes later, forward Nick Zarilli found the back of the net for a shorthanded goal off a nifty assist from defenseman Rob Distefano. Stony Brook added another goal in the 16th minute when forward Brandon Avezov scored off an assist from Pepe and Barnych for his second point. 

Just for good measure, Stony Brook tacked on four more goals in the third period; the first came six minutes into the period when defensemen Matthew McDermitt scored off an assist from forward Jesse Edwards. McDermitt and Edwards struck again 10 minutes later when they assisted on Rainville’s second goal of the night. Just over a minute later, Rainville would complete a hat trick, scoring his third goal of the night. The Seawolves continued to play until the final seconds, adding a last-second goal from forward Kristian Malec to cap the scoring.

The Seawolves’ offense applied constant pressure all night, suffocating the Syracuse defense. Stony Brook outshot the Orange 66-24. The Stony Brook penalty kill unit put on a defensive masterclass, shutting out all 10 Syracuse powerplay attempts and scoring a shorthanded goal in the second period.

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“Our penalty kill played great, but I would rather not have to do any penalties,” head coach Chris Garofalo said in a postgame interview with The Statesman. “Although I give kudos and credit to the penalty kill, I do feel that we took too many penalties this weekend, which really put us in a bind.” 

The Stony Brook defense was strong throughout all three periods by blocking shots and forcing several Syracuse turnovers. Netminder Matvei Kazakov also shined in the game, saving 23 of the 24 shots that came his way. Kazakov held the Orange scoreless in the first and third periods allowing one goal in the second when Syracuse forward Jack Wren scored on an odd-man rush following a Stony Brook turnover. 

In the second game, the Seawolves were tested early, as Syracuse was able to score two quick goals within the first 10 minutes of the game. The first came when Wren scored his second goal of the series on the power play, snapping Stony Brook’s 10-0 penalty kill streak.

Just over two minutes later, Syracuse forward Sam Hutchinson notched another goal to give the Orange a 2-0 lead. Stony Brook was able to bounce back with less than two minutes remaining in the first when forward Sean Kendrick notched his first goal of the season. 

The Seawolves were immediately challenged once again when Syracuse forward Anthony Solt scored a shorthanded goal just 13 seconds into the second period. Stony Brook responded less than a minute later with a powerplay goal from Minerva, his second of the series. The Seawolves then tied the game six minutes later when forward Kyle DePalma launched a wrist shot from the slot for his first goal of the year.

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Syracuse took the lead back at the start of the third period when forward Isaac Arnold scored to put the Orange back on top 4-3. The Seawolves once again tied the game when Avezov scored off of an assist by forward James Kozicki. Syracuse defenseman Alexander Oakes untied the game two minutes later by scoring the teams’ second shorthanded goal of the night. However, Avezov struck again and tied the game with his second goal of the night to even things at 5-5. 

With just four minutes left in the game, Minerva gave the Seawolves their first lead of the day and broke the tie for good. Stony Brook’s defense held tough in the final minutes and ultimately secured the series sweep. Goalie Thomas Sullivan was integral to the Seawolves’ strong defensive finish, making several clutch saves in the closing minutes of the game.  

Stony Brook is now 6-0 against Syracuse dating back to last season. Identical to this year, the Seawolves swept the Orange to open the season last year.

“I think our depth was stronger,” Garofalo said. “They don’t have as much depth as we do. I think that is what really puts us over the top.”

The depth of the Seawolves was evident throughout the first two games, as 18 different players recorded a point. Rainville, Minerva and Avezov all scored three goals throughout the two games. Stony Brook put on an offensive clinic in the series, outscoring the Orange 15-6 and outshooting them by 50 shots. 

“A lot of it has to do with getting pucks to the net and making sure we are crashing it,” Garofalo said. “Everyone in the line we have is a threat to score.”

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The resiliency of the Seawolves was also put on display, as they were able to come back from multiple two-goal deficits in the second game. 

“We did not fold when things were getting tough. We stuck to our gameplan,” Garofalo said. “We were able to handle adversity. Guys kept going and putting their heads down and working.”

Stony Brook will stay on the road for the first game of its next series, as they will travel to New York City to take on the New York University Violets. The next day, they will host the Violets at The Rinx in Hauppauge, N.Y. for their home opener. Puck drop is scheduled for 9 p.m. on Friday and 8:30 p.m. on Saturday. It will also be the opening series for the Violets.

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Matt Howlin is an assistant sports editor of The Statesman. He is a junior journalism major at Stony Brook University. He previously served as the campus news editor for The Compass Newspaper at Suffolk County Community College. Following graduation, Matt plans to follow his dream of becoming a sports journalist. He hails from Coram, N.Y. and is an avid Yankees, Giants, Islanders and Lakers fan.

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