Uticaâ€™s primary objective with this yearâ€™s freshman class was to add scoring punch to its already solid defensive play. At the midway point of the season, it looks like the Pioneers are well on their way to satisfying that goal and are on pace to exceed last yearâ€™s scoring total by more than a third.
â€œGenerally, we played pretty well and are happy with our goal scoring production,â€ said Utica coach Gary Heenan about the first half of the season. â€œWe are a very young team this year, playing a lot of young kids. Overall, we feel pretty good where we are at and are looking forward to the second half.â€
Leading the pack of freshmen scorers is Tim Coffman, who is averaging a goal a game and has scored more than twice as many goals as any other Pioneer.
â€œCoffman is an exciting player, great in the open ice,â€ said Heenan. â€œExplosive, dynamic, creative. He has to get a little stronger along the walls, but he was brought in to score and he is scoring.â€
Unfortunately for the Pioneers, they lost the center of Coffmanâ€™s line and setup man Mike Leone over the holiday break. Leone tallied five goals and 14 assists in the first 13 games, but returned home to Michigan for the holidays and transferred to a MCHA school.
â€œIt was more of a personal thing, staying close to home and financial,â€ said Heenan. â€œHe was a first line player for us. It is a loss and is definitely disappointing from our end. We have to fill that hole now.â€
Moving into that role as the first line center will be Russell Anderson, a freshman who is ahead of schedule recovering from an injury. Anderson played six games to end the first half of the season, averaging a point and a half a game and should fill the void created by Leone quite well.
â€œHe is a big kid who had to get healthy and he is playing now,â€ said Heenan. â€œWe expect big things from him now. He will move up to the first line to fill Leoneâ€™s spot. He is just as creative and a big body that can move the puck well.â€
Another freshman, Soichiro Omi, is also lighting the lamp. He is currently second in goals scored for Utica with six.
â€œOmi has great hands,â€ said Heenan. â€œHe hasnâ€™t had a huge hockey experience coming from Japan, so is still learning the game. In and around the goal, he is very good.â€
Utica had success outside the league in the first half, amassing a 4-1-2 record, but didnâ€™t fair as well in conference. The Pioneers dropped close games to Elmira, Neumann, and Hobart, mainly due to special teams play.
â€œAgainst our conference play, weâ€™ve lost some games because of 5-on-3 goals against,â€ said Heenan. â€œThat is basically what happened in those conference losses. We also werenâ€™t capitalizing on our opportunities. Weâ€™ve got to focus on that a little bit. Young teams staying out of the box is kind of teaching and growing things with those guys.â€
In the Elmira and Hobart games, the game winners both came on 5-on-3s, and against Neumann the first goal of the game was also on a two man advantage.
The 10 freshmen on Uticaâ€™s roster now have a half a season under their belts and as the heart of the league schedule approaches, they will need to quickly start playing like veterans.
â€œThe first half in conference, we werenâ€™t there yet,â€ said Heenan. â€œWe like to say that the freshmen are no longer freshmen post-Christmas. That is a demand that we put on them. They have had two or three months to get settled in to college hockey and expectations go up a little bit. Maturity happened and the growing pains are over and now we can get back to execution.â€
In the French Alps
Hobart is starting out the new year with a trip to Europe. The Statesmen began the trip in Geneva, Switzerland last weekend, seeing the sites and getting adjusted to the time difference.
It was then down to business as Hobart crossed the border into France and played four teams in four nights this week. The first three opponents all play in the Magnus League, which is a top semi-professional league in the southern part of France.
The Statesmen faced Chamonix on Monday, Morzine on Tuesday, and St. Gervais on Wednesday.
Last up was a game against Annecy on Thursday, which plays in Franceâ€™s Division I league.
The results of these games were not known as of publication.
In addition to the hockey, Hobart took the time to tour each of the towns that they played in.
Each player pays their own way on this kind of a trip, but the school makes all of the travel and game arrangements. Besides the fun of traveling around Europe with your teammates, a trip like this can provide other cultural and hockey benefits as well.
â€œOne of the main reasons we go on this trip every four years is to expose the team to higher levels of hockey,â€ said head coach Mark Taylor. â€œMany of our players have the desire to keep playing after college and this may provide opportunities for them. Itâ€™s also a great travel experience with their classmates, something theyâ€™ll remember for the rest of their lives.â€
Former Statesmen Carl Michaelson (â€™03) currently plays in the French Division I league and is a good example of a Hobart player extending his playing career by going to Europe after school.
Game of the Week
The schedule this weekend is filled with non-conference games as all of the teams warm up for the stretch run for the league title. The best game on the list should be Elmira at Potsdam, where it is mentor versus mentee amongst the coaches.
Potsdam head coach Aaron Saul was a standout player at Elmira, and was an assistant coach under current Elmira coach Tim Ceglarski for several seasons. Saulâ€™s assistant coach, Darcy Pettie, is also an Elmira alum, having played for coach Ceglarski during his time with the Soaring Eagles.
Saul took the reigns at Potsdam last season, and Ceglarskiâ€™s Elmira team gave him a bit of a schooling in a 3-0 drubbing in December, 2007. Elmira outshot Potsdam 48-24 in that game.
Potsdam has come a long way in the past year, so this time around may not be quite as easy for Elmira.