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Utica Pioneers defeat Nazareth, advance in the UCHC Tournament

Credit: Scott Kinvile

On Wednesday night, the second-ranked nationally and #1 UCHC seed Utica Pioneers Mens Hockey Team hosted the eighth-seed Nazareth Golden Flyers for a UCHC Tournament Quarterfinals matchup. Many felt it would be an easy win for the Pioneers. They finished the regular season with an overall record of 20-2-3 and 19-0-1 in the UCHC. Nazareth, on the other hand, went 6-17-2 overall and 5-13-2 in the UCHC. They grabbed the eighth seed by winning a tiebreaker with Neumann.

The Pioneers won both regular-season meetings between the teams as well 7-0 and 4-2. Despite the mismatch on paper, Utica head coach Gary Heenan knew the Golden Flyers would present a challenge for his team.

“This will be closer than people probably think”, Heenan said a few days before the game. “They have a huge d core that loves to box you out. We have to play well to advance”.

Utica Pioneers Men vs Nazareth UCHC Tournament Preview

After the first period of Wednesday night’s game closed in a scoreless tie, Heenan’s words began to seem prophetic. For the most part, Nazareth was able to keep the play to the outside when the puck was in their zone. When the Pioneers did get through, goaltender Matt Sayles stopped all 12 shots he faced.

Utica’s Chris Carroll (#11) attempts to corral a loose puck in front of the Nazareth net on Wednesday night. Photo credit: Scott Kinville.

The Golden Flyers had a golden opportunity to get the game’s first goal early in the second, as the Pioneers went down two skaters for 41 seconds. Utica goaltender Ethan Roberts and his teammates killed the entire penalty keeping the game scoreless through two periods. The Pioneers held a 20-14 advantage in shots on goal through 40 minutes.

Utica opened the third period with the speed and aggressive forecheck they are known for. At 6:52 into the period, it paid off. Drake Morse intercepted a Nazareth clearing attempt at their blue line and fired a shot on goal. Sayles made the save but kicked the rebound right to Michael Herrera, who was charging down the slot. Herrera slid the puck across the goal line and the crowd exploded.

With the Adirondack Bank Center still buzzing, the Pioneers struck again two and a half minutes later. Team captain and leading scorer Brian Scoville’s shot from the left point found its way through traffic in front and into the back of the Nazareth net. As the public address announcer was announcing the Scoville goal, he was interrupted by another Utica goal. Preston Brighton’s shot from the top of the circles dented the twine, but it was immediately waved off due to a Pioneer in the crease. Despite the waived-off goal, the home team had complete control of the game.

With two and a half minutes remaining, Nazareth head coach George Roll pulled Sayles for an extra skater. The Golden Flyers were able to get some offensive zone time but after Roberts made a huge stop off a one-timer, the Pioneers put the game away. Brighton scooped up the rebound off Robert’s save and sprung Shane Murphy – who scored the empty net goal and sealed the 3-0 victory.

Ethan Roberts was named the first star of the game after making 22 saves for the shutout and collecting an assist on the third goal. The Pioneers will now host fourth-seed Alvernia on Saturday night in the Semifinals of the UCHC Tournament. For more information about Utica Pioneers Hockey, visit https://uticapioneers.com.

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