Pioneers pace selves to second place in ECAC West

 (Tim Brule)

The Utica College Pioneers just keep rolling right along.

Fresh off a 6-4 win over Elmira on Friday night, the No. 8 Pioneers topped Hobart, the top team in the ECAC West, by a 5-3 count on Saturday evening. Utica now stands at 14-3-0 overall and 5-2 in the conference, just three points behind No. 3 Hobart, with a game in hand on the Statesmen.

“We got a couple of bounces, and scored some opportunistic goals,” said Utica coach Gary Heenan on Monday.

And they’re doing it as a team. Despite their offensive prowess, with an output of nearly five goals per game, the Pioneers only have one player in the Top 25 in Division III scoring, sophomore forward Louis Educate, who has 13 goals and 14 assists for 27 points to date. Junior forward Jon Gaffney is second on the Utica scoring scroll (10-8—18 points), followed by junior Ridge Garbutt (7-11—18), freshman blueliner Donny Olivieri (5-12—17), and senior forward Rob Morton (9-7—16).

“We have two or three lines that contribute offensively,” added Heenan. “We think it’s added up to a couple more wins.”

The Pioneers power play has been solid (18-of-85, 21.2 percent) if unspectacular. The penalty killing (66-of-74, 89.2) has been superb, and is ranked among the top five schools in Division III. Utica has also scored five or more total goals in a single game no less than nine times through its first 17 contests.

Junior goaltender Nick Therrien is 12-2-0 on the season with a 2.27 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage, and made 39 saves in the win over Hobart, including 15 stops in the final 20 minutes. Also seeing action in the Utica net this year have been sophomore Mike Taffe (1-1, 2.30, .897) and freshman Gordon Ceasar (1-0, 1.22, .952). Defensively, Utica is allowing just 2.29 goals per game overall.

No less than 10 different Pioneers picked up a point in last week’s win over Elmira, with Olivieri notching the game-winner on a second-period power play. In the victory over Hobart, Garbutt and Trever Hertz each registered a goal and an assist, while Gaffney notched the game-winner early in the third period, shortly after Hobart had closed within a goal.

The Pioneers have won three consecutive games, and nine of their last 10 outings, with the only blemish a 5-0 setback to Cortland on Jan. 11. Now they’ll get ready for the regular-season stretch run, with eight straight conference games on tap. The gauntlet begins with No. 15 Neumann and No. 11 Manhattanville this Friday and Saturday, both at home at the 4,000-seat Utica Memorial Auditorium, where Utica has gone 9-1 so far this season.

“In the ECAC West, we’ve learned the hard way in the past that you have to battle every single game,” said Heenan. “We have to focus on one game at a time, and Neumann is as far as we’re looking.”


ECAC West Notes

No. 3 Hobart (14-4-2 overall, 6-1-1 ECAC West) lost for just the second time this season when it fell to visiting Utica on Jan. 19. The Statesmen defeated Nazareth, 6-2, on Friday, with Bronson Kovacs scoring twice. Frank Salituro had two goals in the loss to Utica.

No. 11 Manhattanville (11-5-1, 4-2-1) defeated host Suffolk, 9-2, on Jan. 15 before dropping a 5-1 decision at Neumann three nights later. Mark Rivera scored twice in the Suffolk win, while Paul Allan Bamberg tallied his first career goal and added four assists. Rivera then assisted on the Valiants’ lone goal against Neumann.

Elmira (8-10, 3-5) saw its three-game winning streak snapped with its loss to Utica, one night after beating Nazareth, 9-5. Andrew Ciampichini scored three goals and set up another in the Nazareth game, while Josh Burnell had two goals and two assists, Tommy Sumi had three points, and Greg Whittle scored twice. A total of 10 different Elmira players picked up a point in the loss to Utica.

No. 15 Neumann (11-4-2, 3-4-0) increased its winning streak to seven games, and moved into the USCHO Division III rankings, by defeating Division I Penn State, 3-2, in overtime on Jan. 15, and Manhattanville, 5-1, on Jan. 18. Jon Low collected the game-winner for the Knights just over four minutes into OT against Penn State, while Ben Curley finished with 44 saves. Aaron Keaney led the way against Manhattanville with three goals and an assist.

Nazareth (5-11-1, 0-7-0) is still seeking its first ECAC West win after falling to Elmira and Hobart last week. Ben Waldman had two goals in the Elmira game, while Mark Zavorin, Julius Tamasy, and Packy Jones also recorded two points apiece. Tom Mediak had both of the Golden Flyers goals against Hobart, both set up by Alex Silvia, while Joe Gladnick had 37 saves.


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