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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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Loaded recruiting class set to revitalize Stony Brook hockey

Defenseman Teddy Valenti (14) collides with an opponent while playing for Farmingdale against Fairfield on Feb. 4, 2023. Valenti is one of the 13 new players that is joining the Stony Brook hockey team this year. PHOTO COURTESY OF AZTEKPHOTOS

A new season has brought a drastically revamped roster for the Stony Brook hockey team, and the new players are ready to don their new colors and chase down a national title.

Head coach Chris Garofalo took last season’s ousting from the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) tournament as a wake-up call. Seeing a potential problem with the roster arising, Garofalo nipped the issue in the bud and brought in 13 new players to revitalize his squad.

Of his new recruits, six are forwards, five are defensemen and two are goaltenders. Garofalo believes that many of these new players are going to be difference-makers right away.

“Talent will take you so far, but you have to have the will to win,” Garofalo said in an interview with The Statesman. “It seems like these new guys have a strong will to win and they want to make an impact right out of the gate. And I believe — based upon what I’ve seen thus far — I think that they will.”

The changes start up front, where at least five of the six new forwards are expected to play significant minutes this year. Wingers Justin Nakagawa, Grant Ermellini, Max Zarkhin and Victor Nikiforov are all expected to make an impact with their varying set of skills.

Garofalo said that Nakagawa — a freshman who is coming off three years of junior hockey — has one of the highest hockey IQs that he has ever seen. Nakagawa is a versatile player who can skate, score and create opportunities for his teammates. He has experience on the power play, killing penalties and being a top-six forward.

Along with his set of skills, Nakagawa plans to bring grit and passion to Stony Brook. His teammates have already nicknamed him “Juice” due to the burst of energy he provides.

“I love to win,” Nakagawa said. “Obviously, I’m going to do whatever it takes to win, whether that’s using my own body to block a shot or just score a goal. Whatever it costs to win, it’s what I’m most excited for.”

Nakagawa spent the last two seasons playing for the Philadelphia Hockey Club and competed with it in the Eastern Hockey League (EHL) last year. In 47 total games played with Philadelphia, Nakagawa contributed 37 points, scoring 15 goals along the way.

Much like Garofalo said, Nakagawa believes his intelligence on the ice is his biggest asset.

“I like seeing the ice a lot, and my tendency is to think more than do,” Nakagawa said. “I can think about the right situation before it happens and predict where the puck will be, rather than where it is right now.”

Ermellini and Zarkhin are other freshmen who were top recruits that Garofalo expects to make an impact on the wing. Ermellini played for three different teams last season and finished with the Atlanta Mad Hatters in the United States Premier Hockey League (USPHL). Between the regular season and the playoffs, Ermellini tallied 19 points (eight goals and 11 assists) in 22 appearances with the Mad Hatters.

Zarkhin also spent the 2022-23 season in the USPHL and is a good goalscorer, as he scored 16 goals and racked up 31 total points in 36 games played between regular season and postseason action.

As for Nikiforov, he is a junior who transferred in from SUNY Potsdam — an NCAA Division III school. Nikiforov played each of the previous two seasons there, appearing in 22 games while scoring one goal.

Center Nick Gallo is another freshman recruit who played in the National Collegiate Development Conference last year for the New Hampshire Junior Monarchs. Gallo recorded 14 points in 34 regular season games for the Monarchs. He was the first of the 13 new recruits to officially commit to the team this past spring.

Gallo is a two-way player who Garofalo expects to be centering one of the top two lines when healthy. However, Gallo broke his hand during the preseason and will miss the first month of the season.

When Gallo is on the ice, he is a difference maker on both ends.

“He’s a great center,” Garofalo said. “I see him playing a key role. He’s got a lot of offensive ability, but he’s also a 200-foot player and he’s got a scoring touch.”

Gallo described himself as a team-first player who is not concerned with personal gain.

“My strengths are playmaking, passing and being defensively responsible,” Gallo said. “I’m definitely a two-way player. Defensive zone, offensive zone, neutral zone, I just get the puck out to my teammates. If I get in the scoresheet, I get in the scoresheet.”

On the back end, the Seawolves look much different. A trio of transfer defensemen accompany a pair of freshmen that will change the way the team plays defense.

Defenseman Nolan Towne was teammates with Nikiforov in each of the previous two seasons at Potsdam. He has 26 games of NCAA Division III experience, scoring one goal and adding three assists.

Towne’s intensity and physicality will make him a force to be reckoned with on Stony Brook’s blue line.

“I am not going to make it easy on guys when they come into my corner,” Towne said. “Just make it a battle down there every single time and they are going to want nothing to do with it.”

Towne also has a skillset that can help him contribute on offense.

“I am really fast, I can skate the puck well, I can shoot really well,” Towne said. “I don’t think there’s many guys who can shoot and skate like I can.”

Another transfer defenseman is Teddy Valenti, who played his freshman season last year with Farmingdale State College in the Amateur Athletic Union. Valenti was Farmingdale’s second-leading scorer last season with 30 points (eight goals and 22 assists) in just 24 games. Garofalo said that Valenti has impressed the coaches this preseason and possesses a “cannon of a shot.”

Alongside Valenti came defenseman Jon Critelli, who recorded one assist in five games with Farmingdale last season. However, due to lack of playing experience, Critelli still classifies as a freshman.

He made a big splash during training camp, giving himself a good shot to see significant minutes for the Seawolves.

“[Critelli has] really impressed us,” Garofalo said. “He’s somebody who moves the puck really well. He’s a simple defenseman who headmans the puck really well.”

The two freshmen recruits at the position are defensemen Owen Larson and Dylan Kowalsky. Larson may be Garofalo’s biggest acquisition of the group, as he spent the previous four seasons playing with the Mad Hatters and was a star for them. Between the regular season and postseason, Larson played 170 games with Atlanta and tallied 129 points, 109 of which were assists.

Larson expects his offensive prowess to help take Stony Brook to the next level.

“I think I bring a little bit of an offensive flair to our D-core,” Larson said. “With my ability to skate and ability to make a good first pass, we will be getting out of our D-zone easy. I don’t try to sacrifice anything in the D-zone, but the offensive zone is where I thrive for sure.”

Though he is an offensive-minded defenseman, Larson brings a feistiness while defending.

“In the corners, I am mean,” Larson said. “I am kind of a smaller guy, so you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”

Kowalsky played for two teams last year, totaling 31 games. He spent the final 19 games (18 regular season, one postseason) with the New England Wolves of the EHL and tallied 10 points (one goal and nine assists) there.

Garofalo also brought in a pair of goalies to contend for the top backup spot to Matvei Kazakov. Goaltenders Heath Goldsmith and Ben Monsivais were brought in to compete with returning backup Scott Barnikow. Last season, Goldsmith played for two teams in the USPHL and saved 89.9% of the shots he faced in 14 appearances.

Monsivais spent the previous two seasons in a platoon role with Saint John’s University in Minnesota competing in the ACHA Division II. He struggled, saving 83.1% of the shots his defense surrendered.

The new Seawolves will make their debuts at The Rinx in Hauppauge, N.Y. on Saturday, Oct. 7 when the SUNY Oswego Lakers come to town to open the 2023-24 season.

Tommy Pardo and Mike Anderson also contributed reporting.

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