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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


Stony Brook hockey returns to Dwyer Arena to challenge No. 10 Niagara

Right defenseman Owen Larson controls the puck against Liberty on Saturday, Jan. 27. Larson’s performance in both zones this upcoming weekend at Niagara will be integral to the Stony Brook hockey team’s chance to win. MACKENZIE YADDAW/THE STATESMAN

Despite another bad week, the Stony Brook hockey team clinched a berth in the 2024 Eastern States Collegiate Hockey League (ESCHL) postseason tournament. With its nationals hopes all but a different memory, it will look to build some positive momentum going into the league playoffs.

The Seawolves (5-13-4, 4-4-2 ESCHL) will travel to Lewiston, N.Y. this weekend to go toe-to-toe with the No. 10 Niagara Purple Eagles (17-6-1, 9-2-0 ESCHL) in a two-game set. The series will begin at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday before concluding with a 3:30 p.m. puck drop on Sunday. Only Sunday’s game will count towards ESCHL standings.

These two teams faced off back in mid-October and split a two-game series in the exact same place. Niagara stomped on Stony Brook in game one, but the tables turned in game two, which counted toward the league standings. Both sides were scheduled to open the second half of the season against one another, but weather concerns canceled the series.

In order to get off the snide, the Seawolves will have to deal with the Purple Eagles’ high-powered offense that is averaging 4.54 goals per game. The group is led by center Devin Sanders, who has been one of the most dangerous players in the ESCHL this season. He ranks fourth in the league with 35 points through 24 games. His 16 goals are tied for fourth in the ESCHL and his 19 assists are tied for fifth.

Complementing Sanders are a pair of dynamic rookies in left winger Charlie Belanger and right winger Jakob Kalin. Belanger — the ESCHL’s second-most prolific goalscorer — leads the team with 18 goals, while his 33 points tie him with Sanders for the team lead. Kalin is a scoring threat as well, as his 17 goals rank third in the ESCHL and second on his team. He has added 13 assists, making him their third 30-point scorer.

Though its big three has done much of the heavy lifting, Niagara possesses a number of depth players to boot. Left winger Austin Robinson has scored just six goals this season, but he has notched the third-most assists on the team (17) to give him 23 points in 24 appearances.

Other key contributors have been centers Tyler Gilberds and Adam Sojka along with left winger Tristan Taillefer. Gilberds has totaled 16 points (four goals and 12 assists), while Sojka and Taillefer each have 15 points. Sojka is the most well-rounded offensive player of this group, as he has tallied seven goals and eight assists, while Taillefer has notched five goals and 10 helpers.

On the blue line, the Purple Eagles sport a number of defensemen with offensive capabilities. Left defenseman Quinn Schneidmiller has been one of the best defenseman in the league with 20 assists to lead the team and 24 total points.

Right defensemen Connor Loft and Seth Coulter have also shown offensive flashes. This season, Loft has 13 points (four goals and nine assists), while Coulter has 10 points (three goals and seven assists).

With Niagara’s high-flying offense, Stony Brook’s defenseman will have to lock it down on the back end. However, the team has allowed 3.95 goals per game and 3.47 in ESCHL play. Additionally, it has allowed 38.6 shots per game in American Collegiate Hockey Association play.

On the left side, the Seawolves’ defensive core is anchored by left defensemen Andrew Mancini, Joey Trazzera, Dylan Kowalsky and Garth Swanson. Complimenting them will be right defensemen Owen Larson, Teddy Valenti and Jon Critelli. Coming into the series, the status of right defensemen Brendan Fess and Nolan Towne are unknown, as Fess missed both games last weekend and Towne missed the series finale.

Stony Brook’s defense has let down its netminders at times, but goaltender Scott Barnikow has been one of the team’s few standouts. He has stopped 31.1 shots per game and posted a .910 save percentage through 12 appearances. Contrarily, goaltender Matvei Kazakov owns an .895 save percentage through 12 games despite turning aside 29.9 shots per game.

Unlike Stony Brook, the Purple Eagles’ defense has thrived, as they have allowed just 2.67 goals per game this season. Along with Schneidmiller, Loft and Coulter, Niagara’s defense is rounded out by a trio of stay-at-home blueliners in left defensemen Jim DeMatteo and Sam Davies and right defenseman Dean Taylor.

The Purple Eagles’ last line of defense is goaltender Grant Zell, who has been one of the best netminders in the ESCHL. He leads the league with 12 wins and co-leads it with two shutouts. Zell has sparkled to a 2.56 goals against average and .918 save percentage.

In addition to Zell, Niagara’s backup goalies have been good. Goaltender Johan Nyborg sports a 3.57 goals against average but owns a .905 save percentage. Goaltender Jacob Dubinsky has been stellar this season with a 1.83 goals against average and a .938 save percentage in just four games.

The Seawolves’ beleaguered offense will hope to fill the net against the Purple Eagles’ stingy defense and goaltending. Stony Brook is down to just 2.91 goals per game this year and three goals per game against ESCHL opponents.

At the forefront of the team’s offensive attack is left winger Matt Minerva. He has netted a team-leading 12 goals and 19 points through 18 games. Right winger Justin Nakagawa — the Seawolves’ second-leading point scorer — has been mired in a slump. After netting five goals and a team-leading nine assists through his first 13 games, has been held without a point over his last nine.

Despite injuries to centers Will Kormanik and James Kozicki, fellow centers Matteo Daita, Frankie Anastasio and Jesse Edwards have stabilized the position.

Daita ranks third on the team with 12 points and is tied with Nakagawa for second on the team with five goals. Anastasio has moved into a top-six role recently and registered three goals and eight assists, placing him fourth on the team with 11 points. Through 20 games, Edwards has tallied four goals and five assists.

Stony Brook’s wingers have also been hampered by injuries this season. After a recent hot streak, left winger Victor Nikiforov missed the series finale last weekend, leaving his status for this weekend up in the air. 

Fortunately for the Seawolves, right winger Devin Pepe returned last weekend. Though the captain has generated just two goals and four assists through 18 games this season, Pepe’s veteran leadership and past record provides much-needed depth to the lineup.

In the absence of injured players like left winger Grant Ermellini, left winger Kristian Malec has recently played a bigger role. In his last five games, he has buried a goal and added three helpers.

Due to its offensive woes, Stony Brook will look to its defenseman to chip in offensively from the point. With Towne — whose eight assists are the second-most on the team — potentially out, Mancini and Larson will be heavily relied on. Through 16 games this season, Mancini has accumulated seven points (four goals and three assists), while Larson has tallied eight (two goals and six assists) through 19 games.

The Seawolves will need to dominate on special teams in order to take this series. They have killed off 82.2% of their penalties this year, including 78.1% against ESCHL teams. However, their power play has operated at just a 17.2% clip, including 18% against league opponents.

Though this series looks like a mismatch, Stony Brook has already pulled off one upset at Dwyer Arena this season. If the team can execute this weekend the way it did on Oct. 15, 2023, then it is very possible.

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