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Utica Pioneers defeat Stonehill in the Teddy Bear Toss Game

Drake Morse’s hat trick and Eric Vitale’s first collegiate goal led the #4 Pioneers to a 7-2 victory on Friday night.

A raucous crowd filled the sold-out Adirondack Bank Center on Friday night for what is considered by many to be the Utica Pioneers biggest game of the season – The New York Sash Teddy Bear Toss. Now in its nineteenth season, the annual game sees thousands of stuffed animals tossed onto the ice when the home team scores its first goal.

The opponents for Friday night’s game were the Stonehill Skyhawks. The Skyhawks are in their first season as a Division I program and desperately needed a win. They entered the contest with a record of 0-14-0.

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The visitors did their best to spoil the festive mood early in the first period. At just sixty-two seconds into the game, the Skyhawks took a 1-0 lead. Henri Schreifels took a pass from Dean Schwenninger and snapped a shot past Pioneers goaltender Ethan Roberts from the left circle.

Seven minutes later, however, the moment nearly 4,000 people were waiting for happened. A shot by Kimball Johnson bounced off of Eric Vitale in front of the Stonehill create and in. It was Vitale’s first collegiate goal and one of the biggest goals of the season. Within seconds the air and ice were filled with stuffed animals of all shapes and sizes to the roaring approval of the crowd.

The Teddy Bear Toss goal was scored by Eric Vitale. Video credit: Kayleigh Sturtevant, Utica University.

After the ice was cleaned the game resumed. The break did not slow down the Pioneers at all they potted two more goals before the end of the period. At the 12;14 mark, Brian Scoville fired a shot from the top of the circles, through a crowd and past Stonehill goaltender Dylan Meliun. With thirty-eight seconds left in the period, Drake Morse scored his first of three goals on the night when he jammed a loose puck in the Skyhawks crease into the net.

The Pioneers help gather the stuffed animals on the ice after the Eric Vitale goal. Photo credit: Scott Kinville.

The momentum stayed on the side of the home team in the second period as they scored two more goals. Drake Morse notched his second goal of the night with 8:29 left in the period when he snapped a shot from the top of the left circle in to give the Pioneers a 4-1 lead. That goal would finish Meliun’s night as Stonehill’s Head Coach David Borges replaced him with Gavin FitzPatrick.

With seven minutes remaining in the second, Utica Head Coach Gary Heenan elected to switch goaltenders as well, as he brought Bryan Landsberger in to replace Ethan Roberts.

The Pioneers greeted FitzPatrick with a barrage of shots and with 3:15 left in the middle frame, Aiden Hughes was hauled down after getting in all alone on FitzPatrick drawing a penalty shot. Hughes converted and an already loud building got even louder.

The Aiden Hughes penalty shot goal.

Stonehill got one back with twenty-six seconds left in the period on a goal by Devon Carlstrom. The Carlstrom goal made the score 5-2 after forty minutes of play.

That would be all the Skyhawks would get, as the Pioneers put them away in the third period with two more goals. Early in the frame, Jakob Breault stickhandled into the Stonehill left circle and snapped one by FitzPatrick to make the score 6-2. Morse capped the game when finished his hat trick with a power-play goal with 3:29 remaining, securing a 7-2 win for the Pioneers.

With the victory, Utica improved its record to 6-1-3 overall while remaining 5-0-1 in the UCHC. The Pioneer’s next game is on December 9th at Oswego. For more information about Utica Pioneers hockey, visit

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