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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

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Ice Hockey: new attitude and approach for 2012-13 squad

Stony Brook has been practicing since late August for its home opener this week. Adrian Szkolar/The Statesman

For head coach Chris Garafalo, the goal this year the program will be the same like any other: to win the ACHA national championship.

But after last season’s disappointing end, which culminated in the team failing to make the ACHA national tournament, Garafalo has adapted a different mindset for this year’s squad.

“I think last year, and in previous years, my assessment of Stony Brook would be very skilled, very fast, but they’re not tough to play against physically,” Garafalo said. “One thing that we’ve talked about quite a bit is that we’re going to make these guys more physical, we’re not going to just be a good skilled team, we’re going to be a tough team to play against.”

That change in attitude has been apparent in the way that Garafalo has run practices so far.

“He’s been a little more serious this year, not taking as much from the guys,” said senior forward and assistant captain Daniel Cassano. “We’ve seen a difference in the room, guys are being a little more serious because of coach.”

Graduated from last year’s team are forwards Chris Ryan and Bryan Elfant, two of the team’s top offensive players, defensemen George Nicholes, Jason Aro and Jordan DeLorenzo, who were all regulars in last year’s line-up, and starting goaltender Chris Hausel.

Also gone is John Jennings, one of the team’s top depth forwards, who left Stony Brook and returned to his native Florida due to rising out-of-state tuition costs.

“All these guys that are leaving, we’re not just losing good players, we’re losing good characters,” Garafalo said. “But we back-filled it with some really great character guys, I really feel that the guys we brought in are going to be able to fill in their shoes.”

One of last year’s key players who will be back, however, is forward Mike Cacciotti, who was named captain for this year’s squad and has scored 97 points in 66 games for Stony Brook over the past three seasons.

A senior last year, Cacciotti has been hampered the last two years with shoulder problems, and successfully petitioned for a fifth year of eligibility as a result.

“I’m holding up pretty good, it’s fully recovered,” Cacciotti said of his shoulder. “I’m wearing a pretty big brace on it, hopefully, it holds up for the rest of the year.”

Other key players on the offensive side of the puck returning include assistant captains Cassano, junior Wesley Hawkins, and senior Sean Collins, who will be expected to pick up most of the scoring slack this year.

With half of the team’s defensive core from last year gone, Garafalo said that this year’s defense, featuring new-comers such as freshman Andrew Balzafiore, Joe Ditizio and Scott Casley, sophomore Kevin Barry and junior John Ambrose, will have a different look from years past.

“I think we’re going to be a stronger puck moving team, our defenseman will be able to move the puck much better,” Garafalo said. “We really, definitely, have picked up our D, and with the guys returning, we have a pretty solid defensive core, so I feel that we’re not going to skip a beat.”

With the team’s home and season opener against Navy coming up this Saturday, Garafalo is still undecided on the team’s final line-up, and said that he might not make any decisions until the final practice before the game on Thursday.

Impressed with freshman goalies Derek Willms and Brendan Jones, who have given competition to sophomore Daniel Snyder and senior Josh Brand, Garafalo is not even decided on who the starting goalie will be.

“I would say I have a few guys who I see being in the line-up for the most part, but everyone is still fighting for spots,” Garafalo said. “But on offense, goaltending, and defense, there’s going to be some tough decisions I’ll have to make.”

For Cassano, however, while there might be competition for playing time, he and his teammates are eager to start the season and try to achieve the same goal as always: win a national championship.

“I think we’ve made a lot of strides,” Cassano said. “Everyone’s coming back from the summer, guys are starting to get chemistry from playing together, we’re working on our systems now, so everything is starting to shape up.”

Stony Brook will play Navy in its season opener this Saturday at The Rinx in Hauppauge.

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