The Stony Brook University ice hockey team will hope to achieve club history this year by winning the National Championship after falling one game short last season.
The Seawolves will enter the Eastern States Collegiate Hockey League Playoffs as the No. 2-ranked team in the country in the American Collegiate Hockey Association Men’s Division I. The ESCHL Playoffs will take place at Lebanon College in Hershey, Pennsylvania on Feb. 19-21.
Stony Brook ended the season on a high note by beating the University of Central Oklahoma Bronchos 5-3 on Sunday afternoon, the same team that beat the Seawolves 4-0 in last year’s National Championship game.
“This year, we play more like a team,” Head Coach Chris Garofalo said, comparing this year’s team to last year’s. “This team definitely battles harder.”
The team is led on and off the ice by junior captain JT Hall, whose 65 points are the third highest in the league, which consist of 28 goals and 37 assists in 29 games played.
“I’m nothing without my team,” Hall said. “The hunger to win it all is definitely there. Especially when we’ve dedicated the season to [former player] Sam Brewster, who is battling leukemia.”
Stony Brook also looks to senior forwards Andrew Cetola and Tyler Underhill as leading sources of offense. Cetola has nine goals and 35 assists in 30 games while Underhill has scored 26 times and assisted on 15 goals in 29 games.
The Seawolves are also set between the pipes with one of the top goaltending tandems in the league in Derek Willms and Todd Scarola. Willms finished the season with a 13-1-1 record with a .923 save percentage, 2.52 goals against average and one shutout. Scarola went 12-0-1 with a .922 save percentage, 2.20 goals against average and three shutouts. Garofalo hasn’t yet made any decisions on which goaltender he plans to start for the playoffs or National Championships.
For seniors like Willms, Scarola, Cetola and Underhill, it’s their last chance to win the National Championship.
“I wouldn’t say we’re feeling desperation,” Scarola said. “We’re just hungry and we’ve shocked the country. I think this is the team to win it all.”
On the other side of things, there are members of the team who are playing in their first ESCHL Playoffs.
“I’m a bit nervous, but [our last win] helped calm my nerves,” freshman defenseman Parker Bishop said. “It was good to see what the better teams in the league looked like, and we’re just excited and ready to go.”
Garofalo believes the experience that several players on the squad will bring come time for tournament games will be huge. He also doesn’t think there is any added pressure on his team given its No. 2-ranking.
“Regardless of what ranking we are, it’s about winning the tournament,” Garofalo said. “We have to put together four really good games, and if we do that, we can be national champions.”