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Utica Pioneers Women’s Hockey falls in UCHC Championship

Credit: Scott Kinville

The Utica Pioneers lost a heartbreaking UCHC women’s championship game, 2-1, to Nazareth.

“It’s tough,” Utica coach Dave Clausen said. “Our kids played great. It’s a devastating loss for our kids. I can’t tell you how proud I am of the effort they put in.”

If someone needed a definition of the intensity and physicality of playoff hockey, this game was it. And those levels got ratcheted up being a championship game coupled with the referees’ willingness to let them play.

Players barely had room to maneuver, were knocked to the ice often, few had clear shots available to them, and goalies had to fight for every loose puck.

Clausen admitted that was not to Utica’s style, “We’re a pretty skilled, skating team that likes to possess the puck. That was an incredibly physical game. We would love a little more special teams.”

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Utica came out flying from the get-go, catching Nazareth flat-footed at times. The intense pressure was thwarted by their defense and goaltender McKinley Hoff.

Despite the Pioneers’ pressure, it was Nazareth who struck first on the game’s first power play. Julia Holmes’ shot from the middle of the blue line found its way in through the bodies at 10:42.

“Big power-play goal for them,” Clausen said.

Utica didn’t let up and nearly had it tied when Erica Sloan missed a wide-open net from the left circle.

The second period saw a reversal of fortunes — Nazareth came out strong, but Utica scored the lone goal.

Hoff dropped a glove save allowing Hailey Modlin to shove the loose puck in from the crease during a scramble at 7:24.

That goal changed the momentum as Utica dominated the rest of the period but to no avail.

Clausen said, “They played great defense when we had the momentum.”

Off to the third period, and what would a championship game be without some controversy? On another power play, Ella Cedrone deflected the puck in after a shot from the left circle from Makenna Wiljanen. However, Cedrone’s stick was up high. Higher than the crossbar?

The refs discussed it and ruled it a good goal at 4:29.

“We wish there was replay,” Clausen said as he strongly felt the goal was a high stick.

Nazareth went two for three on the power play, while Utica had just one extra skater advantage, coming up empty.

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With visiting Utica bringing an excellent contingent of fans to Rochester, arguably more than Nazareth had at hand, it provided a superb neutral ice atmosphere, with each side trying to outcheer each other, while loud shrieks and moans alternated between the two.

There was rarely a quiet moment in those last 15 minutes as Utica desperately tried to find the tying goal while Nazareth just as desperately tried to prevent it.

With just over three minutes to go, Utica executed a nice two-on-one, only to have the left winger shoot it barely wide.

With two minutes remaining on the clock, Utica pulled Angela Hawthorne (who wound up with 22 saves) for the extra attacker. Chances were numerous, including close-range shots, but nothing could find the back of the net.

“A lot of credit to their team,” Clausen said. “They worked hard. Are well coached. Kept it together. They played great defense when we had the momentum. Once they got the lead, they did a great job closing the door on us.”

Nazareth (22-5-1) will continue to play next week in the NCAA tournament as they received the UCHC auto bid.

Utica (22-4-2), however, is ranked too low in the Pairwise, the only measurement tournament selection uses, to be able to get an at-large bid.

Clausen concluded, “We have a great team of upper-class kids. Our kids played a fantastic game. It’s a tough way for it to end.”

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