An untimely split has left the No. 17 Stony Brook club hockey team’s national championship aspirations up in the air as the team continues to fall in the national rankings.
As the regular season entered its final month, the Seawolves (16-7-2, 6-2-1 ESCHL) split a home-and-home series with the Drexel Dragons over the weekend. They traveled to Philadelphia on Friday and beat the Dragons on their home ice in a 4-3 shootout. Drexel returned the favor on Saturday at The Rinx by winning 5-4, also in shootout fashion.
The series split poses more questions than answers for the Seawolves, who now find themselves in danger of missing the national championship tournament for the first time since 2011.
Stony Brook drew first blood in game one with 15 minutes remaining when right winger Kyle DePalma came storming down the ice and scored on a wrist shot. DePalma’s goal was assisted by right defenseman Rob Distefano, who threaded the needle past a diving Drexel defender. The Dragons evened things up seven minutes later after forward Zach Sprung scored a goal off a deflection.
The Seawolves dominated possession for much of the opening period, but Drexel goaltender Shane O’Brien continually steered them away.
Drexel’s resilience carried into the second period when defenseman Nick Urbani connected on a power-play goal after his initial shot was blocked by DePalma. With goaltender Matvei Kazakov’s line of sight impaired by two screeners, Urbani gathered his own rebound and scored. The Seawolves tied the game at two apiece 10 minutes later when center Nick Zarrilli scored a power-play goal off assists from Distefano and right winger Devin Pepe.
Typically a winger, Zarrilli was moved to center for the night after several injuries to the lineup. The transition was seamless for Zarrilli, who played center in his first season with the team before moving to the wing. Head coach Chris Garofalo praised his work ethic and hockey IQ, which made the decision to move him to center an easy one.
“He’s very smart,” Garofalo said in a postgame interview with The Statesman. “He’s good around the puck, makes good decisions and he has a high IQ for the game. He’s a leader and he’ll be wearing a letter next year. He’s somebody that I think demonstrates everything you want out of a player.”
Pepe took things into his own hands in the third period. Just over five minutes into the frame, he scored an unassisted short-handed goal that saw him steal the puck and fight off three defenders down the ice. Stony Brook held a 3-2 lead until 4:19 left in the game, when Drexel forward Pat McGinley found an open forward Matt Harris in the slot. Harris promptly scored the game-tying goal past a sliding Kazakov. Neither team scored in regulation, sending the 3-3 tie to overtime.
Stony Brook killed a penalty at the start of overtime, and neither team was able to win the game in three-on-three play, sending the game to a shootout. After Kazakov denied three Drexel skaters, center Greg Barnych sent the Seawolves back home with a win, going top shelf for the game-winner.
The Seawolves’ offense came out hot in game two but was continually denied by Drexel goaltender Logan Kramsky, who flashed the leather early and often. Drexel fed off the momentum given by its netminder, scoring on a nice play made by defenseman Ian Huver. After faking out a defender, Huver connected on a wrist shot from outside the faceoff circle to give the Dragons a 1-0 lead with 10:33 remaining in the first period.
Stony Brook evened things up with 11:20 left in the second period when Pepe scored his second short-handed goal of the series on a breakaway. Things remained tied for only 46 seconds, as Drexel forward Adam Lizine connected on a slapshot in the high slot. With 6:27 left in the period, the Dragons extended their lead to 3-1 after Harris scored on the power play over Kazakov’s left shoulder.
Left defenseman Dom Molfetto responded with a power-play goal of his own just over a minute later off an assist from Pepe.
Less than two minutes into the third period, Drexel forward Anton Kozitskiy stole the puck from Molfetto and immediately scored on a backhand to extend his team’s lead to 4-2.
In the final four minutes, Stony Brook’s offense was rejuvenated. Just inside of four minutes remaining, left winger Will Kormanik got things going with a top-shelf goal. His scoring chance was set up by a great play from right winger Kristian Malec, who hustled hard to keep a loose puck in Drexel territory.
Just 24 seconds later, left defenseman Aidan Gallagher deked out three defenders to set up a wide-open net for Barnych. Barnych rifled one to the back of the net as he fell on his backside to knot the game up at four apiece with 3:34 remaining.
Stony Brook’s newfound momentum did not carry into overtime. The team had a chance to win with a three-on-one breakaway, but were denied when Urbani came flying down the ice, diving to poke the puck away. Once again, a shootout ensued.
The shootout was a war of attrition. Urbani scored a penalty goal in the fourth round, only for left winger Mike Galinski to counter with his own to keep Stony Brook alive. Drexel forward Evan Mudrick beat Kazakov in the ninth round giving the Dragons the advantage yet again. Malec was then turned away by Kramsky to win the game for Drexel.
It was too little, too late for Stony Brook, who was unable to fully overcome Drexel’s early lead. Garofalo felt his team needed a more consistent effort on the night opposed to just the closing minutes of the third.
“We’ve got to be on,” Garofalo said. “We can’t be a fluttering lightbulb, where we are on then we are off.”
Injuries also continue to haunt the Seawolves. Distefano did not play in game two. Left winger Matt Minerva and right defenseman Davin Van de Zilver also missed the series, but are both on track to return in the regular season.
After being unable to pull off a win in regulation against the No. 39 team in the American Collegiate Hockey Association, the Seawolves dropped down to No. 18 in the rankings. They will look to ascend in the polls this Friday and Saturday when they travel to Rhode Island to take on the Rhode Island Rams. The Rams are 18-8-2 on the season and just swept the New Jersey Lions in a two-game set. Opening puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Friday and 4 p.m. on Saturday.