Utica playing big

The last time Utica defeated Manhattanville in league play was February 2, 2008. The Valiants have won seven straight since then but the streak was broken last Friday in a game dominated by special teams. The Pioneers won 5-3 by scoring three power-play goals, a four-on-four goal, and an empty-netter at the end.

“It’s been over two years since we’ve beat that team,” said Utica coach Gary Heenan. “Conference-wise, it was big.”

Utica threw in four more special team goals on Saturday on the way to defeating Buffalo State 4-2. The pair of games highlight a strength of the Pioneers this season. Traditionally, Utica has relied on a stingy penalty kill to win games, but this year, the power play has ruled the special teams play and it has led the Pioneers to an 8-3 record.

“We’re getting some bounces that are going our way,” said Heenan. “We are also being more disciplined. We aren’t taking many penalties so are finding ourselves on the power play more than a man down. The guys are moving the puck and getting it to the net. We are changing up the system with each team we play and everyone is getting a shot.”

The power play scored six goals on thirteen opportunities last weekend and is hitting at 30 percent for the season.

Another highlight for Utica as the mid-season break approaches is the balanced scoring throughout the team. Last season, Tim Coffman scored more than twice as many goals as any other Pioneer. While Coffman still leads the team in points this season with 19, the goals have been coming from a wide array of players. Four players have five goals apiece and five players aren’t far behind with three goals each.

“It is not going to be the Tim Coffman show this year,” said Heenan. “We aren’t leaning on one guy for production. He notices that because teams aren’t just gunning on him. He’s certainly scored some big goals for us, make no mistake about it, but there are younger guys who are all chipping in and that is huge. We’re making a save here and there more than we were last year as well.”

Opponents can’t concentrate only on Coffman now, which is freeing him up to contribute across other aspects of the game.

Utica gets another big test this Friday on the road at No. 1 Oswego. A month ago, the Lakers beat Utica 3-1 at The Aud, utilizing their team depth to win the game. The Pioneers are riding a three-game winning streak and hope to keep that going in Oswego.

“This weekend is such a huge weekend for us,” said Heenan. “We have a lot of momentum going into Oswego. There is a lot of excitement around town and in our locker room, but if we drop two this weekend, we are right back to where we’ve been.”

Utica’s other game this weekend is at home in a rematch against Buffalo State.

Hobart also squares off against Oswego this weekend, on Saturday at home. The Statesmen have won three of their last four games, including big wins against Neumann and Elmira. Nearly half of Hobart’s goals have been scored by two players, senior Matthew Wallace and junior Greg Ciciola.

“They ignited down in Neumann and that really got us going,” said Hobart coach Mark Taylor. “Wallace set a great example. In the first three games he was playing hard, had chances to score, but didn’t score. We sat down and I said ‘You’re doing what a captain should do. You’re playing team hockey, you’re playing hard. You keep your nose to the grindstone and the goals will come in buckets.’ I can turn to anyone else on my team right now with that example.”

With almost half the team made up of underclassmen, there was some question entering the season how the team might meld together. That hasn’t turned out to be a problem at all as the players have developed a great rapport amongst themselves.

“Our chemistry of guys is great,” said Taylor. “We have some guys that are finding themselves and connecting with new linemates. Finding the balance of who is playing well with who, we’re not quite there yet. I’m seeing some things that are going to be there and put us in a good spot.”

On sale during Saturday’s game with Oswego will be “Respect The Cooler” t-shirts. All proceeds from the sales go to Hockey Helpers, the team’s community outreach group run by the players. The Cooler is the nickname given to Hobart’s home rink, the Geneva Recreation Center, by coach Taylor when he arrived in 2000.

Back then, the rink was college hockey’s last remaining outdoor rink. While it has since been enclosed, it is still one of the coldest rinks around. Might I suggest that the next fundraiser for Hockey Helpers would be to sell “Respect The Cooler” hoodies so fans can stay warmer during the games.

ECAC West Weekly Awards:
Player of the Week:
Tim Coffman (Jr.), Utica: Coffman netted two goals and added two assists as the Utica College men’s hockey team defeated two nationally-ranked opponents last weekend. Coffman netted one goal and added two assists as Utica defeated No. 8 Manhattanville 5-3 Friday night. He came back on Saturday to score one goal in Utica’s victory over No. 15 Buffalo State.

Goaltender of the Week:
Darren MacDonald (So.), Elmira: MacDonald earned two wins this weekend over SUNY Fredonia and No. 7 Neumann. In a tight 5-4 overtime win versus Fredonia, MacDonald made 26 saves. Against Neumann on Saturday, he collected 43 saves to aide in a 4-2 comeback win for the Soaring Eagles. He now has a 5-2-2 overall record this season.

Rookie of the Week:

Etienne Archambault, Elmira: Archambault scored the game-winner against No. 7 Neumann University, a game in which Elmira trailed 2-0 just 4:42 into regulation. This was his sixth goal of the season.

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