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No. 19 Stony Brook hockey challenges No. 8 Niagara to open its ESCHL season

The Stony Brook hockey team on the bench at The Rinx on Sunday, Oct. 8. The Seawolves will open their league season this weekend at Niagara. PHOTO COURTESY OF AZTEKPHOTOS

Coming off a split in its opening series, the No. 19 Stony Brook hockey team will look to start Eastern States Collegiate Hockey League (ESCHL) action on the right foot.

After splitting their opening series at home to Oswego, the Seawolves (1-1-0) will head up north to the Dwyer Ice Center in Lewiston, N.Y. for a two-game set with the No. 8 Niagara Purple Eagles (4-0-0, 2-0-0 ESCHL). Game one is scheduled for Saturday at 7 p.m., while game two will count towards the ESCHL standings and begin at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday. The second game will be Stony Brook’s league opener.

As it was all of last season, the Seawolves’ goaltending remains their biggest strength in the new campaign. Though the sample size is small, Stony Brook’s tandem of goaltenders Matvei Kazakov and Scott Barnikow was superb in its opening series. Kazakov stopped 35 of the 38 shots he faced on opening night, posting a .921 save percentage. Barnikow — who only played in three games last season as one of the team’s backups — was even better. He turned aside 38 of the Lakers’ 39 shots, giving him a .973 save percentage to start the season.

Each goalie will have their work cut out for them this weekend, as Niagara’s offense has been soaring thus far. Through their first four games, the Purple Eagles lead the ESCHL with 8.25 goals per game and average 7.5 goals per game in official league games. They have scored at least six goals in every game.

Niagara has gotten offensive contributions from almost its entire lineup. The Purple Eagles have already had 14 different forwards register a point this season. Leading the way is center Devin Sanders, who leads the team with 10 points. Sanders’ seven assists are also good enough for second in the ESCHL. Fellow winger Austin Robinson sits just behind Sanders for the team lead in both categories, as he has totaled nine points and six assists.

Niagara winger Jakob Kalin has been the team’s most prolific goal scorer this season, as his five goals lead the team and are tied for second in the ESCHL. Sanders, Robinson and winger Jacob Thomason are all tied for second on the team with three goals apiece. Wingers Charlie Belanger, Tristan Taillefer, David Bunn and Adam Sojka have all scored two goals each.

Along with its deep forward group, Niagara’s back end has also gotten in on the scoring action. Defenseman Quinn Schneidmiller has been the team’s top offensive defender this season, as he leads all ESCHL defensemen with three goals and eight points. Defenseman Connor Loft — another anchor of Niagara’s defensive core — sits just behind Schneidmiller with two goals and six points. Defensemen Seth Coulter and Jim DeMatteo have totaled four points apiece as well.

In order to hinder the Purple Eagles’ high flying offense, Stony Brook’s defense will need to fill lanes and play responsibly in its own zone. The Seawolves were bailed out at times by the strong play of their goaltenders over the weekend, as they surrendered 77 total shots (38.5 per game) last weekend.

Though its back end has been active offensively in the early goings, Niagara has also stymied its opponents in the defensive end. It has allowed just one goal per game this season, which is an ESCHL best, while also limiting its competitors to just 23 shots on goal per game.

Due to the low volume of shots the team has allowed, the Purple Eagles’ netminders have not had to do too much work in the crease, but they have been excellent when called upon. Niagara goaltenders Grant Dell, Jacob Dubinsky and Johan Nyborg have all seen game action this season and combined for a .958 save percentage. Dell is the team’s top goalie and has made two starts in goal, posting a .943 save percentage with 33 saves on 35 shots faced.

Luckily for Stony Brook, it possesses the offensive personnel to break through against Niagara’s stingy defense and goaltending. The team has scored eight goals through its first two games, led by left winger Matt Minerva’s three. Center James Kozicki — Minerva’s linemate — leads the team’s forward group with two assists. Center Jesse Edwards and left wingers Victor Nikiforov and Grant Ermellini have all tallied one goal apiece. Right winger Max Zarkhin and center Frankie Anastasio each dished out an assist.

Anastasio will have to perform, as a separated shoulder will keep center Will Kormanik on the sidelines for possibly two months, and fellow center Nick Gallo is still out with a broken hand.

Though they were held pointless over the weekend, right winger Devin Pepe and center Nick Zarrilli are players to look out for. Pepe was second on the Seawolves in assists (16) and fourth in points (25) a season ago, while Zarrilli totaled 10 goals and 17 points. Right winger Justin Nakagawa was also held without a goal or an assist, but he is a high-IQ player who will see a lot of ice time this weekend.

Like Niagara, the Seawolves have also gotten their defensemen involved offensively. Left defenseman Andrew Mancini tallied a goal and two assists against the Lakers, tying him with Minerva for the team lead in points and Kozicki for the most assists. Right defenseman Teddy Valenti also picked up a goal in his Stony Brook debut. Right defensemen Nolan Towne and Brendan Fess each collected one assist, as did left defenseman Dylan Kowalsky.

Left defenseman Spencer Boris did not find the scoresheet against Oswego, but he is coming off a 2023 All-ESCHL Rookie Team selection. Right defenseman Owen Larson did not play in the second game of the opening series, but he is another offensive-minded blueliner who will be looking to tally his first point with the Seawolves.

Despite the scoring numbers, Stony Brook’s power play woes from last season carried over into the new campaign, as it converted on just one of their seven opportunities (14.3%). Now, it will have to deal with a dangerous penalty kill. The Purple Eagles have yet to allow a power-play goal this season and they have picked up two short-handed goals, which leads the ESCHL.

On the other end of the Seawolves’ special-team spectrum, its penalty kill has flourished. Despite their struggles to stay out of the penalty box, they are a perfect 12-for-12 on the kill this season. The unit will have to deal with a Niagara power play that has scored three goals thus far.

Stony Brook will hope to start off league play hot this season, as the team sported just a 7-5-2 record in official ESCHL games last year. The Seawolves will also be seeking their first win over the Purple Eagles since they became ESCHL rivals. Last season, Niagara swept the lone two-game series between the two teams, outscoring them 15-2 on Stony Brook’s home ice.

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About the Contributor
Anthony DiCocco
Anthony DiCocco, Assistant Sports Editor
Anthony DiCocco is an Assistant Sports Editor at The Statesman. He is a sophomore majoring in journalism with aspirations of becoming a sports journalist. His love of sports derives from years of playing dek hockey and watching his favorite teams, the New York Islanders, New York Mets and New York Jets. He is the beat reporter for Stony Brook’s hockey and softball teams. He has also covered football, baseball, men’s lacrosse and men’s soccer. He was previously the Editor-in-Chief of his high school newspaper the Devil’s Tale at Plainedge High School. He is a local product from North Massapequa, N.Y.
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