GENEVA, N.Y. — It was ‘Camouflage Night at the Cooler,’ as the Hobart Statesmen (15-6-1) hosted the Utica Pioneers (13-8-1). Utica scored four unanswered goals during the last period and a half of the game to skate away with a 5-3 victory.
“I was proud of our team because we didn’t give up down 3-1,” said Utica coach Gary Heenan. “Down two goals in this barn is a big comeback.”
Hobart wore camouflaged jerseys during the game that will be auctioned off to raise money and awareness for the Wounded Warrior Project.
Utica drew first blood in the game, scoring just 3:31 into the contest. Aaron Jeffery kept the puck in at the blue line and fed it down low to Colin Kingston. A quick pass to Nick Kulas at the doorstep finished off the play to give the Pioneers a 1-0 lead.
Play was very even in the first period, as the teams moved up and down the ice. Utica got the better scoring chances in the first half of the period, including a penalty shot by Vinny Rinaldi that the Hobart netminder made a strong pad save on.
“It was a bit of momentum waves here and there,” said Hobart coach Mark Taylor. “There were times where we dominated them, but then we also hit three posts. Get one of those and it might have been different. I didn’t like out inconsistent momentum.”
Hobart’s best chances came late in the period, and the Statesmen capitalized on them. Matthew Wallace pounced on a rebound off a shot by Michael Steiner from the right point at 15:55 to tie the game 1-1.
A pretty power play goal gave Hobart the 2-1 lead heading into the first intermission. Bryant Harris held the puck at the left point and passed diagonally across the zone to Aleksey Koval at the far faceoff dot. Koval was unmarked and one-timed the puck into the net at 18:48 before Pioneers’ goaltender Adam Dekker could get over to block it.
Hobart came out with a vengeance in the second period, completely dominating play for the first ten minutes. The pressure paid dividends at 6:16 to extend the Statesmens lead to 3-1. Jordan Zitoun shot from the point through a crowd. Dekker made the initial save, but Nick DeCroo banked the rebound off a defender and into the back of the net for the goal.
“They had our number in zone most of the night,” said Heenan. “There were probably four shifts when we were in our zone for over a minute and they were just peppering us.”
The Statesmen got into penalty trouble mid-period, and that gave Utica enough of a breather to gather themselves. Dave Burkholder scored for the Pioneers at 10:58 while Utica was on a five-on-three power play with a blast from the left point that whistled just under the crossbar.
“The guys came out great but unfortunately we saw a five-on-three and they got a goal on it,” said Taylor. “A couple of bad turnovers, bad situational plays, gave them a chance.”
Rinaldi took advantage of a broken play to score shorthanded, just two seconds after Hobart got a player out of the penalty box. The puck was bouncing through the Hobart slot when Rinaldi swatted it out of midair to tie the game 3-3 at 14:43.
Hobart re-established its territorial advantage early in the third period, but it wasn’t quite as dominating as earlier in the game. Utica would get about thirty seconds of offense in the Hobart zone before the Statesmen would turn it around and get two or three minutes of chances in the Pioneers end.
However, it was Utica that took the lead at 9:18 on a singular play by Mike Lane. Lane intercepted a pass at center ice, carried it down the right boards, and whistled a shot over Longo’s shoulder for the goal to put the Pioneers in the lead 4-3.
“[Lane] has wanted to crank it up all year, and is just waiting to explode on offense,” said Heenan. “We caught their goalie off balance on that one. We got some fortunate goals and some lucky bounces.”
The Statesmen threw everything they had at Utica in the final few minutes of the game, including pulling their goaltender with 1:30 remaining, but Bryce Dale scored the empty net goal for Utica at 19:45 to finish off the Pioneers 5-3 victory.