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The Statesman

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Stony Brook hockey splits series with NYU to close out bad regular season

Left winger Matt Minerva (29) prepares to take a faceoff while right winger Kyle DePalma (47) gets ready to receive the draw against Drexel on Thursday, Feb. 15. Minerva scored his 15th goal of the year on Friday at New York University. ANGELINA LIVIGNI/THE STATESMAN

To close out its worst regular season in 29 years, the Stony Brook hockey team split its home-and-home series with a foe who had nothing to gain.

The Seawolves (7-16-4, 5-5-2 ESCHL) kissed the 2023-24 regular season goodbye by splitting a pair with the New York University (NYU) Violets (11-7-4) this past weekend. Stony Brook earned a 4-3 comeback victory in New York City on Friday night before falling 3-1 on senior night at The Rinx on Saturday.

In the series opener, the Seawolves drew first blood just over three minutes into the game. While on the power play, right winger Justin Nakagawa pulled up in the left faceoff circle and fed the puck to left winger Matt Minerva as he entered NYU’s zone. After receiving it, Minerva skated into the slot and fired a wrist shot past goaltender Chris Cataldo’s blocker to make it 1-0.

The game remained quiet for the rest of the first period and most of the second. However, with 5:13 to go in the middle frame, a scoring parade took off. The Violets got it going through right defenseman Josh Stich, who sent a quick shot on goal from the right point that was denied by goaltender Heath Goldsmith. However, NYU left winger Thomas He was lurking in the left faceoff circle and snuck up on Stony Brook to deposit the rebound and tie the game.

The Violets took the lead just over a minute later. From the left point, NYU center Frank Tsiouvaras sent a pass to fellow center Videep Vemulapalli in the slot. Vemulapalli’s one-timer was turned away by Goldsmith, but right winger James Orne knocked in yet another rebound to make it 2-1.

Just shy of two minutes later, the Violets earned a power play opportunity and gave way to the Svoboda brothers to double their lead. With a man up, NYU center Adam Svoboda bumped the puck back to his younger brother — right defenseman Alex Svoboda — at the top of the right faceoff circle. From there, the younger Svoboda ripped a wrist shot over Goldsmith’s blocker and into the top left corner of the net.

Despite allowing three goals in as many minutes, the Seawolves regained some momentum immediately after the Violets’ offensive outburst. Just 26 seconds after NYU’s third marker, center James Kozicki and left winger Kristian Malec won a battle and forced the puck into the slot. Right defenseman Teddy Valenti collected the loose puck, let a wrist shot fly and beat Cataldo on his glove side to halve the deficit.

Just past four minutes into the third period, Stony Brook drew even. Kozicki won a clean faceoff right onto Minerva’s stick at the top of the right circle. Minerva threw the puck in the slot and Malec redirected it home to tie it at 3-3.

With the game clock ticking below eight minutes, the Violets created a 3-2 rush, but left defenseman Andrew Mancini shut them down and bumped the puck up to Nakagawa in the neutral zone. Now streaking on an odd-man rush, Nakagawa skated from the right faceoff circle and into the slot, where he fired the puck through traffic and into the back of the net to put the Seawolves ahead for good.

With the resiliency his team displayed on Friday, head coach Chris Garofalo hopes it can carry that never-say-die attitude into the playoffs.

“They were great,” Garofalo said in a postgame interview with The Statesman. “They have the ability to bear down when they have to bear down. Now we have playoffs coming up and we have to focus on that.”

In his first taste of collegiate action, Goldsmith performed well. He denied 30 of the 33 shots he faced for a .909 save percentage en route to his first career victory.

Garofalo was pleased with Goldsmith’s debut, as he was sharp despite being a spectator for the entire season up to that point.

“He played really well,” Garofalo said. “I was happy for him because I know it’s been a long season without getting any game time. He played strong and he gave us a chance to win.”

As a reflection of the back-and-forth contest, Stony Brook narrowly outshot NYU 34-33. On special teams, the Seawolves’ power play went 1-for-5 while their penalty kill went 3-for-4.

Unfortunately for Stony Brook’s seniors, though Saturday night was dedicated to them, they bid farewell to The Rinx with a loss.

Just like game one, the Seawolves got off to a fast start in game two. Just six minutes into the first period, left defenseman Dylan Kowalsky sent a stretch pass up to right winger Devin Pepe at the Violets’ blue line. Pepe came in alone and placed a shot over Cataldo’s right shoulder to capitalize on the breakaway.

With just over a minute remaining in the opening frame, NYU left defenseman Jackson Oleson blasted a seeing-eye snap shot from center point that found its way through traffic and past goaltender Matvei Kazakov.

To start off the second period, the Violets went ahead with a pair of quick goals. A minute and a half into the middle frame, NYU right winger Charles Gardephe led a two-on-one rush and sniped a wrist shot over Kazakov’s glove from the right faceoff circle. Just under three minutes later, center Stellios Bizekis knocked in an insurance goal off the rebound after Kazakov stoned Oleson’s initial effort to make it 3-1.

Garofalo felt that Saturday’s loss was a complete 180-degree turnaround from Friday’s performance.

“It’s a rollercoaster ride,” Garofalo said. “We weren’t in sync, we weren’t doing the little things that we taught them to do and we got away from our game plan. We were undisciplined with our structure.”

Despite outshooting the Violets 37-29, Stony Brook was unable to crack Cataldo. The Seawolves also lost the special teams battle, as their power play went 0-for-3 and their penalty kill went 3-for-4. Overall in the series, they outshot NYU 71-62 and finished 1-for-8 on the power play and 6-for-8 on the penalty kill.

In his final home game, Kazakov was not at his best, as he stopped 26 of the 29 shots he saw for an .897 save percentage.

Though Pepe and his fellow seniors were sad to say goodbye to The Rinx, they are looking forward to potentially making some noise in the 2024 Eastern States Collegiate Hockey League (ESCHL) postseason tournament to finish their story.

“It’s a bit emotional,” Pepe said. “Not exactly the outcome we wanted, but we have playoffs coming up next weekend so we still have a goal to accomplish.”

Over the two games, Minerva, Malec, Nakagawa and Pepe each netted a goal and added an assist, while Kozicki racked up two helpers. Valenti was the only other goalscorer while Kowalsky, Mancini and right defensemen Nolan Towne and Owen Larson all notched an assist apiece.

Though the disappointing regular season is now over, Stony Brook still lives on, as it will head to Pittson, Pa. to compete in the ESCHL playoffs as the sixth seed at Revolution Ice Centre. As for the Violets, their season is over, as they are currently on probation for violating the American Collegiate Hockey Association’s scheduling rules last year.

On Friday, the Seawolves will take on the third-seeded Rhode Island Rams, who are 19-12-3 this year and 6-3-3 in ESCHL games after being swept by No. 20 Pittsburgh this past weekend. Opening puck drop is set for 4 p.m. in a win-or-go-home matchup. If Stony Brook comes out on top, they will go on to play first-seeded Niagara on Saturday.

Kevin Broderick also contributed reporting.

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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, 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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