It’s another year, which means a new beginning for Stony Brook University’s ice hockey team. Last year, the squad fell one game short of winning the National Championship when they were defeated by the University of Central Oklahoma. This year, the Seawolves are armed with better chemistry, a chip on their shoulders and a touching personal story.
“This season is dedicated to Sam [Brewster],” Mike Cartwright, a junior defenseman said.
Brewster, the captain of the team last season, was recently diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of blood-forming tissues that hampers the body’s ability to fight disease.
“It means a lot to every returner,” Cartwright said. “Even the new guys hear stories about how hard of a worker and great guy he is.”
Coach Chris Garofalo was singing the praises of Brewster as well. “Sam is the epitome of hard work,” he said. “That’s the bottom line. He’s a nationally gifted athlete. He chose hockey, because it was the one sport he struggled with. That’s the epitome of Sam Brewster, he loves challenges. If someone told him ‘you can’t,’ he’d say ‘watch me.’”
Brewster is currently in remission, according to a text he sent to Garofalo. “Hey coach, I’m officially in remission,” he wrote. “I’m starting phase two (chemotherapy four times a week). Everything looks really good and it doesn’t look like I’ll need a stem cell transplant.”
Brewster began his hockey journey at the age of 15, which was a lot older than when the typical player starts. The fact that he was able to become such a successful player despite such a late start is a testament to his dedication.
The team itself is off to a good start so far with a 7-1 record. Before their lone loss to Lebanon Valley College, the Seawolves were ranked as the best non-varsity team in the country.
Cartwright said the team will simply take the loss as a learning experience. “We have tons of positivity,” he said. “We still feel we’re the best in the country. We’ll rebound.”
Garofalo, who has been involved in the ice hockey program at Stony Brook since 1992 and is into his sixth year as head coach, isn’t worried either. “You can’t harp on the past, but you have to learn from it, that’s my philosophy,” he said. “We can’t take any teams lightly or make any assumptions no matter where that team is ranked. You have to be hungry every time you play. We’ll bounce back. The guys just got a bit of a wakeup call.”
A majority of the team’s success so far is the chemistry they have on and off the ice. Age isn’t a factor, as all players are equally valued by one another.
“I’m definitely the youngest guy by a couple of years,” 18-year-old Parker Bishop, a freshman defenseman said. “It’s nice to come in and get some playing time and learn from the veterans.”
The irony is that the team is one of the best non-varsity ice hockey teams in the nation, but it’s still technically a club team. Not being able to have the distinction of being a National Collegiate Athletics Association team definitely leaves some players feeling that they have something to prove.
“We have the title of club, but we are not a club sport whatsoever,” Bishop said. “We want to show the school just how good we are.”
In order to make the leap to the NCAA, the ice hockey team would need a real stadium, which would cost millions of dollars. While Garofalo is hoping that the university explores its options in regards to getting the required funding to make it come to fruition, he appreciates what Stony Brook does with its academic reputation and tuition price.
“I believe in the university,” Garofalo said. “Stony Brook has a lot to offer to anyone that comes here, athlete or not. All I hope for is that the school takes a serious look and thinks about whether it’d be a viable option to build an ice rink.”
The potential money gained from admission prices and renting out the arena would go a long way in helping the university make a profit in the end, as well as benefitting the team.
There are a couple of major differences between last year’s team and the current team. Last year’s team may have had more skill, but the current team feels their dedication is unparalleled.
“We don’t have as much skill and we lost our four core players, so we’ll have to work harder,” Cartwright said. “But we have more chemistry. There are no egos, and we’re all friendly with each other off the ice.
“My philosophy as a coach is that the locker room needs to be a giant family environment,” Garofalo said. “Teams need to play for each other and fight for each other. The kids are really good, respectful young men. We don’t have any enigmas in the locker room.”
Even new players are feeding off the positive atmosphere. “From what I’ve heard from the returners, the guys want to be there more this year,” Bishop said. “No one is here to screw around. We’re all there with the same goal, which is to try and form into one true team.”
That positivity extends to the community as well. “We want to represent the university in a positive light,” Garofalo said. “If you look at our weekends, most of our games include a fundraiser. That’s what we’re about. There are a lot more important things in the world than hockey. We need guys to appreciate that they have what some others don’t, like health.”
The Seawolves will attempt to complete the team’s unfinished business from last year and win the National Championship in the American Collegiate Hockey Association Division 1 after winning the Eastern States Collegiate Hockey League championship three years in a row.