In its effort to win the Eastern States Collegiate Hockey League (ESCHL) postseason tournament for the second year in a row, the No. 18 Stony Brook club hockey team had its season come to an end in the semifinals.
The Seawolves (18-11-4, 7-5-2 ESCHL) traveled to the Revolution Ice Centre in Pittston, Pa. for the ESCHL playoffs. As the fourth seed in the tournament, they convincingly defeated the fifth-seeded Delaware Blue Hens 4-1 on Friday to advance to the league’s semifinals. On Saturday, Stony Brook’s season came to a bitter end at the hands of the No. 11 Pittsburgh Panthers, losing 4-2.
Much like the regular season, the Blue Hens had no answer for the Seawolves in their first-round matchup. After a quiet first period that saw Stony Brook dominate possession, it was able to fully take control of the game in the second period.
Stony Brook came out flying to start the middle period. Just 1:48 in, left winger Will Kormanik ripped the puck past Delaware goaltender Jacob Snellenburg to give the team a 1-0 lead after a strong individual rush by center Conor Dempsey.
The score remained the same until the final five minutes of the second period in which the Seawolves were able to seal the game. With just under five minutes left in the period, right winger Devin Pepe found open space while on a two-on-two rush and shot the puck past the blocker of Snellenburg to double Stony Brook’s lead.
During the waning seconds of the period, left winger Matt Minerva made an incredible play by slipping past two defenders and driving the puck to the net. His shot ricocheted to right winger Mike Galinski, who banged home a goal off the rebound. This gave Stony Brook a 3-0 lead heading into the final frame.
The third period was uneventful until the 13:07 mark. Right defenseman Davin Van de Zilver went to retrieve the puck in the corner when his stick got stuck in the boards. This gave Delaware forward Luke Dosen a chance to find forward Brian Ostrander in front of the net. Ostrander beat goaltender Matvei Kazakov to break the shutout.
During the final minutes of the game, Stony Brook received a power play and controlled the puck to chew the clock down. The team took it down to 15 seconds before Van de Zilver threw a stretch pass up the ice to find center Greg Barnych behind the defense. Barnych then fired the puck past Snellenburg with two seconds left in the game for a power-play goal.
The goal caused quite a stir, as Delaware defenseman Christian Brunelle took exception to Barnych scoring rather than running the clock out. Brunelle cross-checked and slashed Barnych while he was skating back to the bench.
Despite the controversy, Stony Brook head coach Chris Garofalo had no problem with the play.
“Honestly, you have the puck on your stick, you’re on a breakaway, what are you supposed to do?” Garofalo said in an interview with The Statesman. “It wasn’t the wrong play … I think if he didn’t shoot, that could be disrespectful to the other team as well.”
Due to third-seeded Rhode Island beating sixth-seeded Drexel on Friday, Stony Brook was the lowest remaining seed. The team moved on to play Pittsburgh, the tournament’s top seed, while Rhode Island faced Niagara.
Saturday’s game presented yet another hard-fought battle between the Seawolves and the Panthers. After last weekend’s series, the level of intensity only rose for their playoff bout.
Pittsburgh controlled most of the first period. Just under four minutes into the game, the Seawolves had a defensive breakdown, as they left Pittsburgh forward Josh Hrip wide open in front of the net. Hrip tapped in a pass from forward Oldrich Virag to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead. Stony Brook had just one shot on goal through the first 11:23 of the contest.
With 6:26 remaining in the opening period, center Jesse Edwards turned the puck over in his own end, which led to Virag ripping a one-timer past Kazakov in the low slot off a pass from Hrip.
Stony Brook answered quickly, as Minerva scored just 56 seconds later to cut the deficit in half. Barnych set up Minerva with a cross-ice pass, allowing him to send a picture-perfect wrist shot from the right faceoff circle over the left shoulder of Pittsburgh goaltender Devin Barresi.
Just over five minutes into the second period, Stony Brook had some offensive pressure, but a blocked shot gave Pittsburgh a chance to turn up the ice. Virag found forward Eddie Pazo, who slipped through a couple of Stony Brook defenders and snuck the puck past Kazakov.
But, the Seawolves continued to fight. With less than a minute and a half remaining in the second period, left winger Kristian Malec scored his third goal in the last four games on the power play, making it a 3-2 game going into the third.
Garofalo glowed when speaking about Malec’s play and improvement following this weekend’s games.
“Kristian Malec has just gotten better throughout the season,” Garofalo said. “From where he started to where he finished, I’m very proud of his progression, especially as a freshman. I expect him to be even stronger next year.”
Despite their best efforts, Stony Brook simply ran out of gas in the third period. With three seconds left in the game, Pittsburgh forward Will Studt officially put the game away with an empty netter, ending the Seawolves’ chance to repeat as ESCHL champions.
Already shorthanded, Stony Brook lost three more impact players throughout the week. Defenseman Joe Trazzera missed his second-straight series with a lower-body injury. During game one, left defenseman Andrew Mancini sustained a thumb injury and missed game two. Right defenseman Rob Distefano suffered an apparent knee injury early in the third period on Saturday and did not return.
Although the Seawolves did not accomplish what they ultimately set out to do, Garofalo was very pleased with the way his team played over the weekend and hopes to use it as a learning experience for next season.
“I thought we played our hearts out,” Garofalo said. “I said in the locker room after the game that if we gave that same consistent effort, we would’ve been ranked higher in the ACHA and made nationals. I think we would’ve won a lot more games this year. Lessons have to be learned in good or bad situations and I think the lesson we learned is that we can’t take a night off.”