In its biggest series of the season, the No. 18 Stony Brook club hockey team’s chances to make the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) National Tournament took a major hit.
The Seawolves (16-8-3, 6-3-1 ESCHL) traveled to South Kingston, R.I. to face off against the Rhode Island Rams this past weekend for a two-game set. To kick off the series, they lost a highly competitive contest 3-2 in overtime on Friday night. The team could not avoid a sweep, dropping a crucial game two 4-2 on Saturday afternoon.
Stony Brook struck first in game one, scoring just 25 seconds into the first period. Center Greg Barnych buried his 10th goal of the season past Rhode Island goaltender Curtis Briggs with left winger Will Kormanik tallying the assist.
The first period was very evenly contested, as both teams recorded eight shots on goal. Stony Brook was able to enter the first intermission with a 1-0 lead.
The middle frame was quite uneventful. Both teams equaled one another in shots again, racking up 11 each. Goaltender Matvei Kazakov was perfect through the first 40 minutes of the game, turning aside all 18 shots he faced to preserve Stony Brook’s 1-0 lead.
The Seawolves entered the third period looking to hold onto their narrow lead, but Rhode Island forward Dylan Weichselbaumer knotted the game up just over two minutes in. Four and a half minutes later, Weichselbaumer found forward Kevin Kanaczet in transition, who promptly deposited a goal past Kazakov. After being in control of the game all day, the Seawolves found themselves trailing 2-1 with 13:20 remaining.
Though Stony Brook was down, the team answered quickly with its leadership group leading the way. Six minutes after falling behind, right defenseman Davin Van de Zilver scored his first goal of the season off an assist from right winger Devin Pepe to tie the game at 2-2.
Both goalies turned away the remaining shots in regulation, sending the game into overtime.
In extra time, things were quiet until the 3:45 mark when Rhode Island defenseman Jonathan Shaw beat Kazakov to score his second goal of the season and win game one for the Rams.
Stony Brook’s loss essentially made game two a must-win, but the team did not rise to the occasion.
The first period of game two was a penalty-filled affair, but only the Rams were able to capitalize on their power play chances. After right winger Kyle DePalma took a slashing penalty just under six minutes into the game, defenseman Aidan Gallagher was called for roughing, setting up a brief five-on-three power play for Rhode Island. Kanaczet scored his second goal in as many games to put the Rams up 1-0.
Later in the period, left winger Thomas Liebold was called for kneeing, giving the Rams another power-play chance. Rhode Island forward Ethan Cordeiro scored his 13th goal of the season to give his team a 2-0 lead.
The penalties subsided slightly in the second period, but not enough to aid Stony Brook’s comeback attempt. The Seawolves earned a power play with under three minutes left in the middle frame, and their special teams let them down again. Just 21 seconds into their power play, Rhode Island forward Dennis Engelson scored a shorthanded goal to stretch the Rams’ lead out to 3-0.
With Stony Brook’s backs against the wall and its season potentially on the line, the Seawolves came out firing in the final period of play. At the 1:44 mark of the third period, right winger Nick Zarrilli scored off assists from right defenseman Rob Distefano and left defenseman Joey Trazzera to make it a 3-1 game.
With 7:23 to go in the final frame, Stony Brook received yet another power play due to a roughing penalty by Rhode Island forward Alex Cudd. On the one-man advantage, center Jesse Edwards found the back of the net, once again assisted by Distefano and Trazzera.
The Seawolves completely controlled play in the third period, outshooting the Rams by a whopping 24-6 margin. Unfortunately for them, it was too little, too late, as the 3-0 hole was too much to overcome. Weichselbaumer added an empty net goal with 29 seconds remaining to put the finishing touches on the game.
Suffering a sweep to Rhode Island, who came into the week ranked 28th in the ACHA, will likely drop Stony Brook in the national rankings. This greatly jeopardizes the Seawolves’ chances of making it to the 2023 ACHA National Tournament. They were already at risk of being bumped in favor of a lower-ranked team with an automatic bid. Now, they may fall beneath the top 20 anyway.
By losing on Saturday, Stony Brook fell to fourth place in the Eastern States Collegiate Hockey League (ESCHL) standings. The team currently has 13 points in league games, which is eight behind Pittsburgh for first place in the ESCHL.
Stony Brook’s best shot at getting to nationals now is via automatic bid, which would require the team to win its final four games against two of the tougher teams in the nation: No. 13 Niagara and No. 11 Pittsburgh. Winning out would give Stony Brook 21 points in the ESCHL, which would tie it with Pittsburgh. In order to win out, the Seawolves would have to sweep Pittsburgh, which would give them the head-to-head tiebreaker and clinch the automatic bid.
Head coach Chris Garofalo was not available for an interview when contacted by The Statesman.
Stony Brook will be back in action for its penultimate regular-season series this weekend against the Niagara Purple Eagles at The Rinx. Opening puck drop for game one is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. this Saturday, with game two starting at 1:45 p.m. the following day.