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Utica Pioneers Men vs Nazareth UCHC Tournament Preview

Credit: Scott Kinville

The number one seed Utica Pioneers Men’s Hockey Team hosts eighth-seeded Nazareth on Wednesday night seeking a third consecutive conference championship.

Another year, another number one seed in the UCHC Tournament for the Utica Pioneers Men’s Hockey Team (20-2-3 overall, 19-0-1 UCHC).

Coach Gary Heenan’s Pioneers enter Wednesday night’s matchup against the Nazareth Golden Flyers on a roll – having won 14 straight games. Utica has yet to lose in 2024, with their last defeat coming at the hands of the Oswego St. Lakers on December 9, 2023. Their impressive overall record and winning streak have vaulted the Pionners to the number two ranking in Men’s Division III hockey.

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

The Pioneer faithful have become accustomed to success. While this season has certainly been more of the same in that regard, it was a different path to get there for this squad. Gone is the veteran-heavy presence that led the Pioneers to their first-ever number-one ranking in the USCHO poll last season. In their place are 13 first-year players, who are highly touted (they were the number-ranked recruit class in Division III by https://neutralzone.net), but were unproven at the college level.

Any doubts from the start of the season have been emphatically put to rest.

“Our regular season result was not expected,’ Heenan said. (We were) spoiled with old, talented teams the last few years and we had to dig in much more day to day this year. More details in practice and daily video. This team came with energy each day and a willingness to learn. (It) Was fun to come to the rink each day”.

Utica’s Eric Vitale fires a shot on goal against Alvernia. Photo credit: Scott Kinville.

Forward Eric Vitale is tied for fourth on the team in points with 25, and his 11 goals trail leading goal scorer Shane Murphy by one. Right behind Vitale on the goal leader list is fellow freshman Michael Herrera, who has lit the lamp 10 times. Four of the top ten in points on the Pioneers are freshmen.

It’s not only the freshmen that are making an impact, the veterans that returned from last season’s team have made their presence felt. Chief among them is defenseman Brian Scoville. The senior was named team captain before the start of the season and has lived up to the title in every way. With the likes of Justin Allen, Jayson Dobay, and Connor Fedorek departed, Scoville has become an offensive force from the Pioneer blue line. He leads the team in points (29), assists (21), shots (100), and +/- (+37).

The Pioneers opened this season with a very challenging schedule. Although it wasn’t reflected in their record, they were defeated by the Team USA NTDP U18 7-1 in their only preseason game. Despite the lopsided loss, Heenan took a positive away from it, he felt that being “Humbled by the USA 18’s was good for us”.

It would not get any easier for the regular season opener as the then-number two Adrian Bulldogs came to town for a pair of games. The young Pioneers skated to a 0-0 tie with the visitors on the first night and won 3-2 in overtime the next day on a goal by freshman Griffen Barr.

A visit from UCHC rival Stevenson followed the Adrian games for another stiff challenge. The Pioneers skated to another tie in the first game (this time it was 2-2), and took care of business the following day with a 5-2 victory. It was at that point that coach Heenan began to believe this Pioneer team was ready to carry the lofty Utica standard of success.

“Had to dig in for Adrian,” he said. “Not losing to both Adrian and Stevenson gave us the belief that we could compete with anyone. That was two epic weekends for us”.

Ethan Roberts (#35) searches for the puck while Kimball Johnson (#20) defends the top of the crease. Photo credit: Scott Kinville.

With the UCHC regular season secured, Utica now seeks its third straight conference championship and fifth in seven seasons. The first hurdle will be the Nazareth Golden Flyers (6-17-2 overall, 5-13-2 UCHC). Although the Pioneers won both of the regular season matchups between the teams (7-1 and 4-2 on January 26 and 27) and finished 37 points ahead of the Golden Flyers in the conference standings, Heenan knows it will not be easy.

“We are one and two in the least amount of penalties and face-offs”, the Utica bench boss observed while noting the teams are also very close in power play efficiency.

The Pioneers will need to keep an eye on sophomore forwards Logan Tobias and Blake Frost. Tobias is the team leader in points (19) and leads in goals by a wide margin with 14. Frost leads the Golden Flyers in assists with 10 and is second in points to Tobias with 16.

It will be a true David vs Goliath matchup on Wednesday night, and Heenan knows his Pioneers cannot go in overconfident.

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

Team Statistics

Utica Pioneers

  • Goals Per Game: 4.9
  • Goals Against Per Game: 1.6
  • Shots Per Game: 44.7
  • Shots Allowed Per Game: 25.2
  • Power Play: 18.8%
  • Penalty Kill: 87.7%

Individual Leaders

  • Goals: Shane Murphy (12)
  • Assists: Brian Scoville (21)
  • Points: Brian Scoville (29)
  • Shots: Brian Scoville (100)
  • PPG: Khristian Acosta (4)
  • SHG: Shane Murphy (2)
  • GWG: Matt Wood (5)
  • +/-: Brian Scoville (+37)
  • PIM: Preston Brighton (20)

Goaltenders

Ethan Roberts: 11-2-3, 1.74 GAA, 0.933 save percentage, 3 shutouts.

Bryan Landsberger: 9-0-0, 1.14 GAA, 0.951 save percentage, 3 shutouts.

Nazareth Golden Flyers

  • Goals Per Game: 2.2
  • Goals Against Per Game: 3.3
  • Shots Per Game: 34.9
  • Shots Allowed Per Game: 32.3
  • Power Play: 17.4%
  • Penalty Kill: 76.7%

Individual Leaders

  • Goals: Logan Tobias (14)
  • Assists: Blake Frost (10)
  • Points: Logan Tobias (19)
  • Shots: Logan Tobias (100)
  • PPG: Logan Tobias (6)
  • SHG: Logan Tobias + Blake Frost (1 each)
  • GWG: 6 tied at 1
  • +/-: Daisuke Egusa (+7)
  • PIM: Daisuke Egusa (27)

Goaltenders

Matt Sayles: 4-5-1, 2.63 GAA, 0.911 save percentage, 1 shutout.

Raphael Provencher: 2-10-1, 3.64 GAA, 0.894 save percentage, 1 shutout.

Lincoln Crosby: 0-2-0, 3.35 GAA, 0.895 save percentage, 0 shutouts.

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