In the 11 seasons that Mark Taylor has been head coach at Hobart, there are several attributes that Statesmen teams have all had. Hard working, defensively responsible, strong goaltending, all are things opponents routinely say about Hobart teams. This year however, the Statesmen are reinventing themselves. While the above attributes are still there, Hobart has added a new twist, playing a system using three defensemen on the ice at a time.
Most longtime Division III hockey fans will recognize this system as a hallmark of the Middlebury team for many years that led them to several national championships. Indeed, that is where Taylor first learned the system when he was a young assistant coach under Middlebury’s Bill Beaney in 1987.
Due to several last-minute comings and goings of recruits, Hobart found itself with 11 defensemen on the roster, and less depth at forward, so Taylor and his staff decided to implement the three defensemen system, dressing nine ‘D’ every game, and only eight forwards.
“That fits our strengths right now,” said Taylor. “I like how the guys have embraced it, and I think it works for us. I have seen a lot of advantages from it. Thank God I have worked for good coaches like Bill Beaney and Tim Whitehead. We needed to do it. What we have always done before doesn’t fit us this year.”
The players are adjusting quickly to the system. Three defenders in an umbrella high in the offensive zone makes it difficult for opponents to break out of their own zone.
The Statesmen forwards have to make an adjustment as well, though. With only two players diving deep into the offensive zone, the forwards have to look up high now for more help.
“We’re renewing ourselves in a lot of ways in the way we are playing, and in personnel as well,” said Taylor.
One of the freshmen off to a quick start this season has been Ryan Michel. Through the first four games of the season, he notched two goals and two assists, including the game-winner against Salve Regina. Unfortunately, Michel got tied up with a Utica skater chasing a puck for icing on Saturday, went hard into the boards, and left the ice favoring a knee.
“He’s having a great year,” said Taylor. “He is a local kid. He’s been playing great for us, and we are hoping we haven’t lost him. He’s done some good things.”
Putting it together
Utica is starting to put the pieces together and play as a team full of veterans. A sign of that is the ability to play with a lead in the third period. Last year, Utica lost several games after holding late leads. This year, the Pioneers are 4-1 when entering the third period with a two-goal lead or less.
“We’ve come a long way,” said Utica coach Gary Heenan. “We have guys who are willing to block shots, fight through and advance the puck when we need to.”
Up front, sophomore Trever Hertz has raced to a blistering start this season. In six games, he has seven goals and four assists, which places him in a tie for the national lead in goals scored. Hertz also earned ECAC West Player of the Week honors for his three goals and an assist this past weekend.
“His speed has come a long way,” said Heenan. “Last year, his speed wasn’t quite there. He did a great job in the off-season getting stronger. He has a knack for the net.”
On defense, junior Cody Adams has added an offensive touch to his game this season. He exploded this past Saturday against Hobart when he assisted on Utica’s first three goals of the game.
“He’s been steady for us,” said Heenan. “He’s not here for offensive production, so that is a bonus. We’re looking for the wall play from him. Good for him.”
Utica continues to alternate between two goaltenders, as was done last season as well. Nick Therrien and Evan Smith have split time exactly in half in net, and have amassed statistics within one percent of each other in league play. Two strong goaltenders constantly pushing each other helps both keep sharp.
“Both guys respect one another, but know that if one gives an inch, the other will take it,” said Heenan. “We have two number one goalies in our eyes, and we plan on keeping it going.”
A roster full of veterans gives the Utica coaching staff lots of flexibility when making game-day decisions.
“Our depth is there,” said Heenan. “We’re carrying a big roster and have made a ton of roster changes game-to-game. We haven’t seemed to skip a beat when we do that. We have that competition in our roster, and in our practices, that should make us better.”
ECAC West Weekly Awards:
Player of the Week — Trever Hertz (So.), Utica. Hertz recorded four points over the weekend, with three goals and one assist. The sophomore scored one goal and added an assist in a 7-3 win over Westfield State, and tallied two goals in a 5-3 conference win over Hobart.
Goaltender of the Week — Nick Therrien (So.), Utica. Stopped 31 shots in a conference win at Hobart.
Rookie of the Week — Josh Burnell, Elmira. Burnell scored his first two points with a pair of assists as a Soaring Eagle in an ECAC West conference win over No. 10 Neumann.