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#2 Utica Pioneers clinches UCHC regular season crown on Friday night

Credit: Scott Kinville

With a 4-1 win over Alvernia and a Stevenson loss on Friday night, #2 Utica Pioneers Men’s Hockey clinched the UCHC regular season title.

The second-ranked Utica Pioneers Men’s Hockey Team (17-2-3 overall, 16-0-1 UCHC) hosted the Alvernia Golden Wolves (11-9-2 overall, 9-7-1 UCHC) for the first of two games between the UCHC rivals this weekend. The Pioneers entered Friday night’s game with a chance to wrap up their seventh consecutive UCHC (and eleventh overall) regular season championship. A Pioneers victory coupled with a Stevenson loss to Wilkes would guarantee head coach Gary Heenan’s team would once again wear the regular season crown.

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The Pioneers controlled zone time through the first half of the first period, but the Golden Wolves were able to keep them from getting any good looks. That changed with 6:25 remaining in the opening frame as Eric Vitale sent a pass to John Gutt who snapped a shot from between the circles past Alvernia goaltender Jackson Fellner to open the scoring. It was Gutt’s second straight game with a goal, as he also scored in last Saturday’s 7-0 win at King’s.

Utica added another goal less than two minutes later, this time on the power play. Kimball Johnson blasted a one-timer from the left point off a pass from Jakob Breault into the back of the Alvernia net. The Pioneers outshot the Golden Wolves 20-7 for the period and took a 2-0 lead into the first intermission.

Utica’s Eric Vitale (#21) fires a shot on goal with teammate Drake Morse (#17) trailing during Friday night’s game against Alvernia at the Adirondack Bank Center. Photo credit: Scott Kinville.

The score would remain 2-0 through the next twenty minutes, as the teams played a relatively even period. Both goaltenders took center stage in the middle frame, as Fellner and Utica’s Bryan Landsberger both made big saves when needed.

Khristian Acosta (#34) sets up at the top of the Alvernia crease during Friday night’s game against the Golden Wolves. Photo credit: Scott Kinville.

The physicality ramped up almost immediately after the opening faceoff in the third period. Kimball Johnson was checked hard into the end boards in the Utica end and was temporarily unable to get up. Although he stayed in the game, the Pioneers bench and home crowd vehemently disagreed with the official’s decision not to call a penalty.

The chippiness and physicality continued, which slowed the Pioneer attack but did not stop it. The home team added a third goal with 6:31 remaining when a point shot by Preston Brighton was tipped at the top of the crease by Dante Spagnuolo past Fellner and in.

Alvernia answered the Spagnuolo goal two minutes later with a marker of their own. While skating six on a five a delayed penalty had been called against Utica’s Shane Murphy, Alvernia’s Jordan Gagnon dove the net and snuck a shot past Landsberger inside the right post. The Golden Wolves killed their own power play a minute later when they took a too many men on the ice bench penalty.

Although they did not score on the ensuing power play, the Pioneers got the exclamation point with 1:31 remaining. Eric Vitale continued his hot play by burning a wide-open chance from the bottom of the right circle for his 10th goal of the season. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, Utica skated away with a 4-1 victory.

After the game, the attention turned to the Wilkes at Stevenson game that had gone to overtime. Nick Swain of Wilkes completed his hat trick at the 2:01 mark and in the process locked up the regular season title for the Pioneers.

Utica and Alvernia will meet again on Saturday night at the Adirondack Bank Center. For more information about Utica Pioneers hockey, visit https://uticapioneers.com.

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