Left defenseman Dom Molfetto (center) looking to pass the puck against Rhode Island on Saturday, Oct. 29. Molfetto scored his second goal of the season during the Stony Brook club hockey team’s series at Ohio. PHOTO COURTESY OF AZTEKPHOTOS

In its return from a month-long layoff, the No. 18 Stony Brook club hockey team secured a big series split to start the new year.

The Seawolves (13-6-0, 9-2-0 ESCHL) traveled to Athens, Ohio for a weekend showdown with the No. 6 Ohio Bobcats. They were defeated 5-2 in their return to the ice on Friday, but rebounded on Saturday night with a 4-3 win in overtime.

Each team traded quality scoring chances to start game one, but Stony Brook was the first to capitalize. Just under six minutes into the opening frame, center James Kozicki made a nice move to generate a shot that Ohio goaltender Justin Damon saved. However, left winger Shawn Rainville deposited the rebound and gave Stony Brook an early 1-0 lead.

Despite the strong start, the tables quickly turned on the Seawolves. Just 2:23 later, Ohio forward Collin Felton dug a loose puck out of the corner and found forward Luc Reeve, who slid it through the legs of goaltender Matvei Kazakov to tie the game. 

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Two minutes later, Stony Brook’s newest defenseman, Joey Trazzera, committed a hooking penalty to give the Bobcats a power play. Reeve took advantage of the opportunity, ripping a shot past the outstretched blocker of Kazakov for his second goal of the period. 

The start of the second period made it clear that it was not Stony Brook’s night. The Seawolves had a golden opportunity to tie the game in the opening moments when winger Matt Minerva was stoned by Damon on a two-on-one. After the ensuing faceoff, Reeve received a pass at the red line from defenseman Sam Turner to create a two-on-one of their own. Reeve then took a shot and buried it, completing a hat trick to put Ohio up 3-1.

Soon after that, center Jesse Edwards had a great chance to cut the lead in half, but pushed the puck just wide of a yawning cage on a breakaway. After that, Ohio forward Andrew Sacca extended the Bobcats’ lead with a goal of his own. In the waning minutes of the period, Sacca tacked on a power-play goal to make it 5-1 Ohio.

Ohio’s second period outburst was too much for Stony Brook to overcome. The Seawolves’ only sign of life came with 3:07 remaining in the game, when left defenseman Dom Molfetto scored his second goal of the season.

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The Seawolves were dominated on Friday, as they were outshot 45-21. They could not handle Reeve, who now leads the American Collegiate Hockey Association in goals (24) and points (49).

Head coach Chris Garofalo attributed their poor game-one performance to rustiness.

“I think the first game was getting our legs back from the big break we had,” Garofalo said in an interview with The Statesman. “But then, if you look at the scoresheet, they had one player on their team — Reeve — who’s an excellent player. He’s a sniper. He can pick corners. He had three of their five goals. We knew he was a good player going into the game on Friday but we kind of let it get away from us.”

On Saturday night, Stony Brook looked like a completely different hockey team.

Like game one, the Seawolves struck first. Just past the eight minute mark in the first period, coming off a faceoff, Minerva banked a wrist shot off of Damon and into the back of the net. The score remained 1-0 until 12:34 left in the second period, when Ohio forward Laker Aldridge tied the game with a goal of his own.

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Just 44 seconds into the third period, right defenseman Rob Distefano scored on a power play to break the deadlock. Only 12 seconds later, Trazzera scored his first goal as a Seawolf with a wrist shot through traffic to beat Damon.

Garofalo spoke highly of Trazzera, complimenting him as a well-rounded player.

“We added Trazzera. That was a big pickup for the second half of the season,” Garofalo said. “He’s a solid defenseman, makes good decisions, and makes great breakout passes.”

However, the Bobcats would not go away quietly. Halfway through the third period, Aldridge scored his second goal of the game on a five-on-three power play to halve Stony Brook’s lead. With just over three minutes left in regulation, Aldridge scored a shorthanded goal to tie the contest and complete his own hat trick.

No more goals were scored in regulation, and the game went to overtime with the score tied at three apiece.

Though disappointed by the game-tying goal, the Seawolves still had power-play time to work with in overtime. Just 17 seconds into overtime, Stony Brook gained control of the puck off the opening draw and stormed into Ohio territory. Left winger Will Kormanik sent his team home happy and walked it off with a perfect wrap-around shot for the game-winning goal.

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“When I recruited [Kormanik] … I always saw he had more in him,” Garofalo said. “I noticed that when I looked at him for two years and put him in a position to be a top end guy for us, he’s just blossomed.”

Stony Brook’s split with Ohio looks even better when considering that they were without three key players. Right winger Brandon Avezov’s time with Stony Brook is done, as the team leader in goals, assists and points transferred to Columbia University. 

“Brandon Avezov transferred out of Stony Brook, and he’s going to Columbia University,” Garofalo said. “Huge loss but it was nothing to do with hockey. It was an academic decision.”

The team’s second-leading scorer — center Greg Barnych — missed the series due to illness. Center Mike Conlin did not travel with the team either. Typically a left winger, Minerva played center in Barnych and Conlin’s absence.

The Seawolves will return home to The Rinx for the first time in 2023 this upcoming weekend. There, they will take on a league rival in the Delaware Blue Hens. The Blue Hens are 10-11-1 overall on the season and 6-7-1 in Eastern States Collegiate Hockey League play.

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