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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

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Sixth-seeded Stony Brook hockey opens playoffs against third-seeded Rhode Island

The Stony Brook hockey team gathers on the bench before the game against Drexel on Thursday, Feb. 15. The Seawolves will play Rhode Island tomorrow in the quarterfinal of the league’s playoffs. ANGELINA LIVIGNI/THE STATESMAN

It is do-or-die time from here on out for the Stony Brook hockey team, as it enters the 2024 Eastern States Collegiate Hockey League (ESCHL) postseason tournament.

The sixth-seeded Seawolves (7-16-4, 5-5-2 ESCHL) will look to turn one of their worst seasons ever into a memorable one against the third-seeded Rhode Island Rams (19-12-3, 6-3-3 ESCHL) in the first round of the ESCHL playoffs on Friday. Puck drop is booked for 4 p.m. at the Revolution Ice Centre in Pittston, Pa., where the entirety of the tournament will be hosted.

During the regular season, Rhode Island swept Stony Brook in a pair of two-game series, with two of the matchups going into overtime. The two teams last met over the first weekend of February up in Kingston, R.I. and not much has changed for either side.

The Rams’ strongest facets are its mix of stellar goaltending and sound defense. Leading the way in scoring prevention is goaltender Curtis Briggs. Through 24 games, Briggs has recorded a .922 save percentage and 2.58 goals against average, which both lead the ESCHL among qualified netminders. His 12 wins are the second most in the ESCHL while his two shutouts are tied for second.

Though it is unlikely that he will make an appearance, backup goaltender Callum Burgess has been outstanding when spelling Briggs. If Rhode Island needs him for whatever reason, he will put his 7-1-0 record, .912 save percentage, 2.12 goals against average and a shutout to the test.

Defensively, the Rams have allowed just 2.71 goals per game this season, which is the second-best mark in the ESCHL. Defending in front of Briggs and Burgess will be left defensemen Jonathan Shaw, Demitri Forand and Mike Licausi alongside right defensemen Jack Drohen, Ronan Judge, Tim Crane and Damon Valente. The unit has played some of its best hockey over its last 10 games, conceding just 2.4 goals per contest. 

The matchup does not bode well for the Seawolves, as their lack of offense is a glaring weakness. They have scored the second-fewest goals (74) in the ESCHL and they are ranked dead last in goals per game (2.96). Against league opponents, the team has scored 3.05 goals per contest.

Left winger Matt Minerva is the only Stony Brook player playing above a point-per-game pace at 1.13. Through 23 games, Minerva leads the team with 15 goals and 26 points, while his 11 assists are tied for the most on the squad with right winger Justin Nakagawa. Along with his 11 assists, Nakagawa scored seven goals this year. He was the only Seawolf to appear in all 27 games.

Left winger Kristian Malec surged over the final weeks of the regular season. After a slow start to the campaign, Malec netted six goals and added five assists for 11 points over his last 10 games of the year. 

Down the middle, centers James Kozicki, Matteo Daita, Jesse Edwards and Frankie Anastasio are all valuable offensive threats for the team.

Kozicki has found success as a playmaker in his breakout campaign, as he has racked up 10 assists and 14 points in 20 games, which are both the third-best totals on Stony Brook’s roster. Daita has nearly split his points evenly between six goals and seven assists. Like Malec, Edwards has also deposited six goals and tallied five assists. Anastasio has recorded three goals and eight assists through 17 games.

Right winger Devin Pepe will hope to make an impact, as well. The captain has had a down season, picking up just nine points thus far. However, he has notched a goal and two assists over his last four games as he looks to end his collegiate career on a high note. Center and co-captain Nick Zarrilli will also be aiming to do the same and add to his one goal and three assists.

On the blue line, right defenseman Owen Larson has led the way offensively with 12 points (two goals and 10 assists). Right defenseman Nolan Towne and left defenseman Andrew Mancini are known to activate from the point, as well. Towne has collected 11 points (one goal and 11 assists) and Mancini has totaled nine (four goals and five assists).

With their light-scoring offense, the Seawolves will rely heavily on goaltender Matvei Kazakov as he looks to shift into a new gear for the playoffs. While Kazakov’s .899 season save percentage and 3.69 goals against average are not good, he has a proven track record and plenty of playoff experience. Prior to this season, Kazakov compiled a .926 save percentage and 2.67 goals against average over his two previous campaigns. He was a key in their run to the quarterfinals of the 2022 American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) national tournament.

Goaltender Scott Barnikow is another solid option, as he sports a slightly better .904 save percentage and 3.69 goals against average in ACHA play. Overall, Barnikow has posted a .901 save percentage and 3.98 goals against average.

As seen by its netminders’ high goals against averages and low save percentages, Stony Brook’s defensemen need to alleviate the pressure. Along with Mancini, Towne and Larson, the defensive unit consists of left defensemen Joey Trazzera and Dylan Kowalsky, who are flanked by right defensemen Teddy Valenti and Brendan Fess.

As a team, the Seawolves have allowed 39.1 shots on goal per game overall and 38.3 against ACHA opponents. The immense shot volume that the team allows has resulted in big numbers on the scoreboard, as it has given up 3.65 goals per game in ESCHL action and four goals per game overall, which is the second most in the league.

Through 34 games this season, Rhode Island is averaging 3.26 goals per game, which is the second-worst figure in the league. Through their four meetings with Stony Brook during the regular season, the Rams averaged 33.3 shots and 3.25 goals.

The spark to Rhode Island’s offense is left winger Shane Mulhern, who leads the team with 23 assists and 37 points, which rank fourth and sixth in the ESCHL, respectively. His 14 goals are the second most on the team.

Mulhern’s running mate is center Zac Bell. He leads the team with 16 goals and sits just behind Mulhern with 35 points. Bell is a unicorn, as he also gets shifts at left defenseman.

Centers Ethan Cordeiro and Jake MacKinnon round out the Rams’ top-end scoring. Cordeiro has racked up 10 goals and 14 assists, while MacKinnon has scored nine times and dished out 10 helpers.

Rhode Island also possesses a plethora of scoring depth beyond its four best forwards. Right winger Dennis Engelson has found the back of the net nine times and totaled 14 points. Left winger Alex Cudd plus right wingers Kevin Kanaczet, Matt Tetreault and Max Lockwood have all contributed 13 points apiece.

From the point, Shaw has been one of the Rams’ best offensive contributors. Through 33 games, the blueliner has netted seven goals and accumulated 20 assists. Drohen has been solid, as well, adding 13 points (two goals and 11 assists) on the back end.

If the Seawolves find themselves on a power play, Rhode Island is unlikely to break a sweat. According to the ACHA’s website, the Rams’ penalty kill is the best in the ESCHL, as the unit has killed off 86.8% of its penalties. On the other hand, Stony Brook sports the worst power-play unit in the league, as it is operating at a 16.7% clip overall and 17.1% against league opponents.

However, the special teams units may cancel each other out. Like Rhode Island, the Seawolves have been effective on the penalty kill, stifling 82.5% of enemy power plays, ranking third in the ESCHL. In league play, they have survived 79.8% of their shorthanded disadvantages. The Rams have also struggled on the power play, almost matching Stony Brook with the third-worst conversion rate (17.8%) in the conference.

If the Seawolves pull off the upset, they will advance to the second round of the playoffs to face top-seeded Niagara in the semifinals on Saturday. Conversely, a loss will end their season.

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