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No. 18 Stony Brook hockey suffers crippling sweep to No. 13 Niagara

Defenseman Rob Distefano chases the puck in a game against Delaware on Sunday, Jan. 15. The Stony Brook hockey team was swept by Niagara this week, greatly hurting its chances at a national title run. PHOTO COURTESY OF AZTEKPHOTOS

In what was a make-or-break weekend for the No. 18 Stony Brook hockey team, the offense and special teams failed to step up to the task.

In their final series at The Rinx this season, the Seawolves (16-10-3, 6-5-1 ESCHL) were swept in a pivotal two-game set against the No. 13 Niagara Purple Eagles. Stony Brook was blown out 10-1 in game one on Saturday before falling 5-1 on Sunday.

Following the sweep, Stony Brook now finds itself on the outside looking in of the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) National Tournament. The team dropped to No. 20 in the ACHA National Polls, keeping it at risk to be bumped in favor of a lower-ranked team with an automatic bid. Stony Brook will need all the help it can get in the coming week to receive a bid to the big dance.

“This weekend was a pivotal weekend for us,” head coach Chris Garofalo said in a postgame interview with The Statesman. “Unfortunately, we didn’t step up to the plate and rise to the occasion.”

Niagara took complete control of game one after a physical first 14 minutes of the opening period. The Purple Eagles drew first blood when defenseman Seth Coulter scored on a wrist shot from inside the faceoff circle.

Stony Brook was given a chance on the power play a minute later, but the opportunity lasted a mere 12 seconds when left winger Matt Minerva went to the box for a hooking penalty.

Niagara doubled its lead with 9:47 remaining in the second period when forward Tristan Taillefer scored as the power play expired. Just over three minutes later, Niagara went up 3-0 after forward Nicolas Porterfield beat Stony Brook’s defense while attempting to make a line change. The Seawolves entered the third period without a goal, as Niagara goaltender Grant Zell went 11-for-11 in save opportunities in the middle frame.

A minute and a half into the third period, Stony Brook finally broke through when center Conor Dempsey scored. However, Stony Brook’s momentum quickly faltered when Niagara scored two goals over the next 36 seconds. 

After extending its lead to 5-1, Niagara unleashed an offensive onslaught to embarrass Stony Brook. The Purple Eagles compiled five more goals and spent the majority of the period in the Seawolves’ zone. Overall, Niagara’s offense tallied seven goals and 15 shots on goal in the third period.

The Purple Eagles picked up where they left off in game two. Five minutes into the game, Niagara forward Devin Sanders potted a goal off a rebound in front of the net. Early on in the second period, Sanders broke away from Stony Brook’s defense and went top-shelf, squeaking one past the shoulder of goaltender Matvei Kazakov. 

Following Sanders’ second goal, the Seawolves were presented with four power-play opportunities, but failed to capitalize on any of them. Stony Brook generated shots, none of which posed much of a threat to Niagara goaltender Johan Nyborg. The team’s best chances went wide of the net, keeping it in a 2-0 hole. 

Garofalo feels the team missed an opportunity to get back into the game during this stretch.

“That was a big problem in the second period,” Garofalo said. “We could have changed the whole dynamic of the game but we didn’t capitalize on our power play and we’ve got to work on that.”

Niagara struck again within the first five minutes of the third period when forward David Bunn eluded a diving Stony Brook defender to score off a rebound. About a minute later, Stony Brook broke through when right defenseman Rob Distefano buried one home to make it 3-1 Niagara. 

Once again, it was too little too late for Stony Brook. Several penalties slowed down the Seawolves’ comeback effort, allowing Niagara to put the game out of reach with two power-play goals in the span of four minutes.

Stony Brook had a horrible weekend in most aspects and was outscored 15-2 between the two games. The Seawolves did a poor job generating scoring chances on offense, as Niagara outshot them 80-56. The offense is mired in a cold streak, having scored only six goals over its last four games. 

“We just don’t get enough shots to the net,” Garofalo said. “A lot of our shots weren’t quality and were outside shots. We have to be more disciplined when it comes to that.”

Special teams inconsistencies have plagued the team all season and continued this weekend. Stony Brook went 0-for-14 on power plays. Untimely penalties also hurt the team throughout the weekend.

Stony Brook will wrap up the regular season this upcoming weekend in a different home rink. While The Rinx goes under renovation, the team will host the No. 11 Pittsburgh Panthers for a two-game series at the Dix Hills Ice Rink in Dix Hills, N.Y. 

The Panthers are currently second place in the Eastern States Collegiate Hockey League (ESCHL) with 21 points. They are coming off a sweep of West Chester University. Opening puck drop is scheduled for 8 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday.

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