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#2 Utica Pioneers Men’s Hockey advances to the Frozen Four

Credit: Scott Kinville

The #2 Utica Pioneers defeated the #9 Plymouth St. Panthers 4-1 on Saturday night to advance to their first Frozen Four since 2012-13.

Head coach Gary Heenan and his Utica Pioneers have enjoyed a lot of success for more than two decades. On Saturday night, they took a huge step towards making 2023-24 their most successful yet – even if Heenan wasn’t expecting it with 13 first year players.

“There’s no way we drew it up this way,” Heenan said interference to having so much success with such a young team. “We thought we were in for a bear of a year, we really did.”

Instead, his Pioneers have ascended to the number two ranking in the country, and are two wins away from securing the school’s first national championship after defeating Plymouth St. 4-1.

Utica’s Matt Wood (#12) battles to get a shot on Plymouth St. goaltender Kalle Andersson. Photo credit: Scott Kinville.

Saturday night’s game looked like it could be a track meet in the first period, as each team fired 11 shots on goal. However, Goaltenders Ethan Roberts of Utica and Plymouth St.’s Karlle Andersson made big saves, and only allowed one goal in the period. That came with 4:49 remaining when Jakob Breault of the Pioneers fired a shot from the right circle over Andersson’s shoulder and into the top left corner of the net.

“I thought we did have some rust in the first five, seven minutes,” Heenan said of his team’s start. “We’re gonna get through that, and I thought we did dictate the pace of the game. (We had) multiple opportunities in the first and we wanted to play with the lead.”

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Utica opened the second period with sustained pressure, hemming in a Plymouth St. offense that came into the game averaging five goals and 48 shots per game. The pressure paid off at just under seven minutes in with a power play goal by Chris Carroll. The sophomore took a centering pass from John Gutt and wired a shot from the slot past Andersson to make it 2-0.

Khristian Acosta (#34) looks to make a play while Dante Spagnuolo (#15) sets up in front of the Plymouth St. crease during Saturday night’s game. Photo credit: Scott Kinville.

Plymouth St. cut the lead in half four and a half minutes when Colin Tracy’s shot from the point found its way through traffic and past Roberts. It was Tracy’s first goal of the season.

Heenan was impressed with his young team’s poise after the Plymouth St. goal, saying “We didn’t panic when they got the goal to make it two to one. As a young group, it’s pretty remarkable that we didn’t panic.”

The Pioneers took their two-goal lead back two and a half minutes later. Andersson made a save off an Aiden Hughes shot from the right circle, but kicked a rebound right Andrew Della Rovere for the put-back. That would conclude the second-period scoring and the home team took a 3-1 lead into the second intermission.

Plymouth St. opened up the offense in the third period, firing 14 shots on goal trying to claw back into the game. Roberts was outstanding, turning aside all 14 shots including some grade A chances. Carroll put the game out of reach when snapped a shot past Andersson from the right circle with 13:20 remaining. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, a loud jubilant crowd at the Adirondack Bank Center exploded in celebration realizing a dream season was going to continue.

“The crowd was amazing,” Pioneers captain Brian Scoville noted. “(It was) one of the loudest games I have probably been a part of. They were behind us all game, and I think we fed off that energy really well.”

In defeating Plymouth St., the Pioneers shut down one of Division III’s top offenses and top players in Will Redick. Coach Heenan attributed that to his team sticking with the gameplan.

“The guys I thought executed the gameplan,” he said. Heenan also expanded on the gameplan, saying “I thought our D gaps were just awesome all night, not giving him (Redick) a lot of room. We had our eyes on eight all night. We had a matchup we liked, home ice allowed us to matchup who we wanted against him. He’s a real special player.”

Scoville played a big part in getting the young Pioneers to buy in, and agreed with his coach in regards to the execution of the gamplan.

“I think just sticking to details, being part of the forecheck,” the captain said. “On the defensive side, having good sticks in the zone and guys up in front, so I think we really (talked about) those topics all year and I think that’s why it’s successful.

Redick was held to no points and five shots.

The Pioneers will now face #1 Hobart on Thursday in the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament. For more details about the Utica Pioneers in the Frozen Four, visit https://uticapioneers.com.

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