Utica looks to return to basics

Coach: Gary Heenan, tenth season overall and at Utica (112-96-25)
2009-10 record: 8-14-4 overall, 4-9-2 ECAC West (fifth)
2009-10 team offense: 3.46 goals/game (fifth)
2009-10 team defense : 4.04 goals/game (fifth)
2009-10 power play: 20.9 percent (fifth)
2009-10 penalty kill: 75.2 percent (fifth)
Key losses: Matt Fitzgibbons (8g, 12a), Brian Gibbons (5g, 13a), Vincent Nucci (7g, 10a)
Key returners: Tim Coffman (19g, 16a)
2010-11 predicted finish: Fifth


It has been a busy off season of recruiting in Utica. The Pioneers need to replace 12 players from last year’s team, eight due to graduation and four to injury. While leading scorer junior Tim Coffman (19g, 16a) returns, Utica will look to the young freshmen and sophomores to mature very quickly.

Sixteen newcomers join the Utica roster this season.

“Outside of our original year, this is the most freshmen,” said Utica coach Gary Heenan. “We are kind of excited about it. In youth, there is enthusiasm. We really don’t know where we will go, being that young in this league.”

The freshmen will need to play in every facet of play, including the power play and penalty kill. With the influx of new players, Utica is looking to get back to its roots a bit.

When you mention Utica hockey around college circles, the first thing to come to mind is strong defense and relentless penalty killing. It all starts behind the blue line for the Pioneers.

However, Utica has gotten away from this stereotype the last few years. While the goals-per-game has gone up slightly, much to the delight of the large crowds at the Aud, so has the goals against. The penalty killers only knocked off a paltry 75 percent of the opponent’s man up situations last season.

“One thing we have been very proud of, as a staple of Utica hockey, is being fierce competitors, blocking shots, and solid goaltending,” said Heenan. “We’ve gotten away from that over the last couple of years. From the red line in to our zone, we are looking at all of those concepts, systems, and personnel. The foundation to any success we’ve enjoyed is team defense.”

Utica doesn’t have much time to get its boatload of new players up to speed.  The Pioneers have a scant three non-conference games before leaping right into league play in early November.

“We’ve got three games to prepare for Hobart and Elmira,” said Heenan. “Hopefully after those three games, we’ll have our feet wet and get some chemistry early on.  With so many freshmen, they are going to have to play. Leadership for us will be very, very important.”


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