Stony Brook hockey searching for payback against Rhode Island

From The Statesman

By Anthony DiCocco


With nationals essentially out of the picture, the Stony Brook hockey team will now focus on clinching a berth in the Eastern States Collegiate Hockey League (ESCHL) playoffs.

The Seawolves (5-12-3, 4-4-1 ESCHL) will head to Kingston, R.I. this weekend to square off with the Rhode Island Rams (15-11-2, 6-2-2 ESCHL) in a two-game series. Game one is scheduled for 5:45 p.m. on Friday and the puck will drop at 5 p.m. the next day. Only Saturday’s game will count towards ESCHL standings.

This is the second time this season the two teams have met. Back in October, Stony Brook hosted a two-game series at The Rinx and was swept. The Seawolves will hope to return the favor this time around, but that may be tough to do given who is minding their opponent’s net.

Coming into the series, Rhode Island’s biggest strength is its goaltending tandem, which is led by starting goaltender Curtis Briggs: the 2022-23 ESCHL Player of the Year. Though he sports just a 9-8-2 record, Briggs has had yet another sensational season, owning a .926 save percentage, 2.60 goals against average and two shutouts.

In his role as the Rams’ backup, goaltender Callum Burgess has been stellar. He sports a team-leading 2.29 goals against average to go with a .917 save percentage. Burgess has also recorded a shutout and boasts a 6-1-0 record.

As a team, Rhode Island has been strong in its defensive zone, allowing just 2.79 goals and 29.7 shots per game. The defense is anchored by left defensemen Jonathan Shaw, Demitri Forand and Mike Licausi alongside right defensemen Tim Crane, Jack Drohen and Ronan Judge. All of them tend to stay at home and play defense except for Shaw, who is the Rams’ third-leading point producer.

Opposing Rhode Island’s combination of stout goaltending and defense will be Stony Brook’s injury-plagued, low-scoring offense. The Seawolves are averaging just three goals per game and a slightly better 3.15 goals per game in ESCHL play.

Leading the way will be left winger Matt Minerva, who has been Stony Brook’s most prolific goalscorer with 11 goals in 17 games. He has also recorded five assists. Another Seawolf that will need to step up in a big way is right winger Justin Nakagawa, who has been held pointless in his last seven games. Nakagawa’s nine assists still lead the team and his five goals and 14 points are second.

Centers Matteo Daita, Frankie Anastasio and Jesse Edwards will also have to be key contributors with fellow center James Kozicki still sidelined with an injury. Daita has been a consistent producer this season, as he is tied with Nakagawa for second on the team in goals (five) and third on the squad in points (11).

Anastasio’s nine points tie him with Kozicki for the fourth-most on the team. Edwards has spent most of the year centering either the third or fourth lines and has done well, producing three goals and five assists in 18 games.

Though they did not play big roles earlier in the season, a plethora of injuries have opened the door for left wingers Victor Nikiforov and Kristian Malec to make an impact. Nikiforov has knocked in a pair of goals and recorded an assist over his last four games. Malec has been playing on the right wing since the calendar flipped to 2024 and has played well, contributing a goal and two assists over the last four games.

Nikiforov and Malec will need to keep producing points since right winger Devin Pepe is dealing with a knee injury. Pepe has had a down final season with just six points (two goals and four assists) in 16 games.

On the blue line, left defenseman Andrew Mancini and right defensemen Nolan Towne and Owen Larson like to make their presence felt in the offensive zone. Through just 14 games this season, Mancini has scored four goals and added three assists. Towne’s eight assists are second on the team and his nine points lead Stony Brook’s defensive core. Larson is second amongst the Seawolves’ blueliners with eight points (two goals and six assists) through 17 games.

However, those guys will need to help more on defense. In its defensive zone, Stony Brook has struggled mightily, as it is surrendering 3.95 goals per game and 3.38 in ESCHL play. Additionally, the Seawolves are allowing 39.9 shots per game in American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) action. Other than the aforementioned three, left defensemen Dylan Kowalsky and Joey Trazzera along with right defensemen Brendan Fess and Teddy Valenti will have to hold it down better on the back end.

Given the amount of injuries and struggles, head coach Chris Garofalo may give other defensemen playing time just to let them showcase themselves. Left defenseman Garth Swanson and right defenseman Jon Critelli are both candidates to play.

Stony Brook’s goaltenders have been hurt by the defensive woes but have still been the team’s brightest spot.

Though he was named the team’s backup to start the season, goaltender Scott Barnikow has outperformed regular starter Matvei Kazakov to force a timeshare in net. Barnikow has posted a .913 save percentage through 11 games this season. Kazakov has been far from his usual self, posting a .900 save percentage and a 2-7-1 record.

The Seawolves will have their hands full with the Rams’ potent offense. Through 28 games this season, Rhode Island is averaging 3.32 goals per game.

The brightest spot of the Rams’ offense has been left winger Shane Mulhern. Through 27 games, Mulhern is tied for fourth in the ESCHL in assists (18) and eighth in points (28). His 10 goals rank second on the team.

In addition to Mulhern, the trio of centers Jake MacKinnon, Ethan Cordeiro and Zac Riccitelli are a force down the middle for Rhode Island. Both MacKinnon and Cordeiro have scored nine goals and totaled 19 points this season, placing them in a tie for third on the team in both categories. Their 10 assists apiece are both tied for fourth on the team. As for Riccitelli, he has been a playmaker as well, racking up eight helpers and 11 points in 25 games.

Right winger Dennis Engelson has been another top scorer for the team with eight goals and 12 points. Left winger Kevin Kanaczet has been balanced with his offensive numbers, tallying five goals and six assists.

Left winger Alex Cudd plus right wingers Max Lockwood and Matt Tetreault have all tallied 10 points this season. Cudd has scored six goals and added four assists. Lockwood and Tetreault have each buried two goals and registered eight assists.

Despite their deep forward group, two of the Rams’ most important offensive pieces are a part of their back end. Shaw’s 23 points rank fourth in the ESCHL and his 16 assists are the second most on the team. Center Zac Bell — who also plays left defenseman — leads his team with 13 goals and his 26 points. He is third on the team with 13 assists.

Drohen has been productive as well, totaling eight assists and 10 points in 27 games.

When looking at special teams, Rhode Island has the advantage. According to the ACHA’s website, the Rams have killed off 87.5% of their penalties this season. Stony Brook will have to work hard to break through against their penalty kill, as its power play is operating at just an 18.0% clip overall and 19.3% against ESCHL opponents.

Luckily for the Seawolves, their penalty kill has a favorable matchup, as Rhode Island’s power play has converted on only 18.4% of their man-advantages. Conversely, Stony Brook has killed off 83.3% of its penalties overall and 79.2% against league opponents.

A pair of blowout victories would theoretically keep the Seawolves alive in the hunt for a berth to the 2024 ACHA national tournament. However, their current No. 34 ranking in the ACHA’s Men’s Division I makes it very unrealistic that they actually get there. They are also too many points behind No. 12 Pittsburgh and No. 9 Niagara to overlap them in the ESCHL standings and clinch an automatic bid as regular season champions.

Instead, they will just have to win a lot of games by a heap of goals over the next three weeks and hope the 13 teams ahead of them in the national rankings plummet.

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