In a last-ditch effort to make the national tournament, the No. 20 Stony Brook club hockey team earned a hard-fought split against the Eastern States Collegiate Hockey League’s (ESCHL) best.
With The Rinx closed for renovation, the Seawolves (17-10-4, 7-5-2 ESCHL) concluded their regular season at Clark Gillies Arena in Dix Hills, N.Y., where they welcomed the No. 11 Pittsburgh Panthers. Stony Brook broke their five-game skid with a 5-2 win on Saturday night before dropping Sunday afternoon’s contest 5-4 in a shootout.
The loss allowed the Panthers to clinch the ESCHL regular season title.
Stony Brook finished the 2022-23 American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) regular season ranked 18th in the computerized polls. That spot was not high enough to clinch a spot in the 2023 ACHA National Tournament, as Stony Brook was bumped to make room for a lower-ranked team with an automatic bid.
In game one against Pittsburgh, Stony Brook got off to a fast start. At the 2:34 mark of the first period, right defenseman Brendan Fess lofted the puck out of the defensive zone to create a breakaway for left winger Matt Minerva. On the breakaway, Minerva slipped a backhander through the legs of Pittsburgh goaltender Grant Lindsay to give the Seawolves a 1-0 lead.
With 9:26 remaining in the opening frame, the Seawolves doubled their lead when center Greg Barnych benefitted from a fortuitous bounce, as a pass through the slot caromed off of a Panther’s skate and into the net.
Despite a late push by the Panthers, goaltender Matvei Kazakov turned aside all seven shots he faced in the second half of the first period, allowing Stony Brook to head into the intermission up 2-0.
In the second period, the Seawolves wasted no time in extending their lead. Just 33 seconds into the period, center Jesse Edwards found right winger Nick Zarrilli at the top of the faceoff circle, who fired a slap shot that left winger Kristian Malec deflected in.
Three minutes later, Stony Brook executed with the man advantage when left winger Devin Pepe fed the puck to Zarrilli, who blasted a power-play goal past the glove of Lindsay.
It was all Seawolves until the 13:59 mark of the second period, when Minerva was called for a delay of game penalty. Pittsburgh defenseman Nick Bandi threw a seemingly harmless wrist shot from the point towards the net, which pinballed off a Seawolf and into the net to get the Panthers on the board.
In the closing moments of the middle frame, Pittsburgh found itself on a two-on-one. In what appeared to be a wide-open cage, Kazakov slid to his right and made an outstanding save to keep it a three-goal game going into the third.
In the third period, the majority of play was held in Stony Brook’s zone. Just over seven minutes into the third, Kazakov made several great saves before Pittsburgh forward Mike Orban stuffed a loose puck into the net to cut Stony Brook’s lead down to two.
The Seawolves got into some penalty trouble towards the end of the game, killing off a huge five-on-three power play. They were forced to kill off another penalty moments later. Luckily for Stony Brook, Zarrilli once again came up big on special teams with a short-handed goal to seal the game.
“[Zarrilli] played fantastic,” head coach Chris Garofalo said in a postgame interview with The Statesman. “He was probably the best player we had on the ice tonight.”
Saturday’s win was a much-needed victory for the team after dropping five straight. Backed by a balanced performance and outstanding play from Kazakov, Stony Brook was able to steer the ship back in the right direction.
“We had to go back to the basics,” Kazakov said. “We just worked on some details during practice. At the end of the day, we just go there and play hockey. Just go out there and enjoy the game and all the good things will come together.”
Sunday afternoon’s game was much more of a battle for Stony Brook.
Though the Seawolves controlled play to start game two, they were unable to capitalize offensively, as the Panthers drew first blood. Pittsburgh forward Oldrich Virag scored on a backhander coming off an assist from forward Josh Hrip.
Stony Brook answered 24 seconds later to tie the game. Right winger Mike Galinski took a shot that was saved by Pittsburgh goaltender Devin Barresi, but Minerva knocked home the rebound.
Following Minerva’s goal, the Panthers completely took over. With 8:46 remaining in the opening period, Pittsburgh forward JC Belle ripped a one-timer past Kazakov. Three minutes later, forward Will Studt scored after banging home a rebound to give Pittsburgh a 3-1 lead heading into the second period.
Stony Brook did not go away quietly, scoring 34 seconds into the middle frame when Edwards carried the puck up ice and netted a goal to make it 3-2.
At the 4:57 mark of the second period, Pittsburgh brought its lead back to two goals when Virag scored on the power play. Stony Brook answered again midway through the second period when left defenseman Spencer Boris chipped the puck out of the defensive zone, allowing Malec to pick up the loose puck and score.
As a whole, the third period was uneventful until Stony Brook got the equalizer it was looking for. Just under five minutes in, Galinski slid a no-look pass to Minerva in front of the net, who scored his third goal of the series to tie the game at four apiece.
The score remained unchanged throughout the rest of the third period and overtime, setting up a shootout between the two sides. Minerva and right defenseman Rob Distefano both added shootout tallies, but it was not enough. Pittsburgh forward Brendan Jones scored the game-winning goal to end things in the seventh round.
Instead of nationals, the Seawolves will compete in the ESCHL playoffs. They will take the ice again this Friday at 7 p.m. against the Delaware Blue Hens in the first round. The tournament will be hosted at the Ice Line Quad Rinks in West Chester, Pa. Stony Brook swept Delaware during the regular season.
Stony Brook won the ESCHL postseason tournament last year. The team will look to defend its title this year.
“Hey, man, we won the championship last year,” Garofalo said. “We want to be able to continue that and win our second league championship in a row.”