By Scott Kinville/315 Hockey.
The sixth-ranked Utica Pioneers Men’s Hockey Team (6-2-0 overall, 6-0-0 UCHC) is certainly heating up as the season progresses. This weekend they ran their winning streak to six games as they swept the Wilkes Colonels in a two-game set at the Adirondack Bank Center. With the victories, the Pioneers pick up six more points in the UCHC and are now on top of the conference standings.
Utica and Wilkes first met on Friday night, with the Pioneers skating away with a 6-2 victory (for a full recap, click here: #6 Men’s Hockey Derails Wilkes – Utica University Athletics). The rematch took place on Saturday afternoon, and despite an early power play opportunity, it would take the Pioneers a few minutes and a huge pad save by goaltender Bryan Landsberger to get going, but they did indeed get going. Khristian Acosta opened the scoring almost exactly halfway through the opening period when he redirected a Kimball Johnson point shot past Wilkes netminder Garrett Nieto. Wilkes answered right back a minute later when team-leading goal scorer Billy Berry put a rebound from a Joe Johnson point shot behind Landsberger to even the score at one.
The Pioneers regained the lead just over a minute after the Berry tally when Regen Cavanagh drove the left side of the Wilkes zone, went between the legs to get around the defender, and darted to the goal line. From there, he sent a pass to the front of the net where Josh Kagen slipped the puck past Nieto to give his team a 2-1 lead heading into the first intermission.
The second period would see some physicality, but only one goal. That marker came at the 5:44 mark when Jaxon Rutkowski sent a shot from the point that was deflected on its way in and past Nieto to give the Pioneers a 3-1 lead after forty minutes of play.
Utica scored three goals in the third period to put the game away. The first one came at one minute and forty-eight seconds after the opening faceoff when Jakob Breault cashed in on a loose puck at the Wilkes net just before a power play expired. Four minutes later, Remy Parker would continue his red-hot weekend when he blasted a one-timer past Nieto on a two-on-one from a pass from Khristian Acosta to make the score 5-1. He score his fourth goal of the weekend with just twenty-four seconds left giving the Pioneers a 6-1 victory and a lot of momentum going into the Delta by Marriott Utica Thanksgiving Showcase which begins next Friday at the Adirondack Bank Center.
Notes: Utica outshot Wilkes 42-31…Utica was 1/6 on the power play, and Wilkes was 0/4…Mic Curran (3 assists) and Lucas Herrmann (3 assists) led Utica in points…Dante Zapata led both teams in faceoff wins with 14…Utica next plays on Friday at home against Plymouth State University in the Delta by Marriott Utica Thanksgiving Showcase.
Three Observations From The Game
Defenseman Justin Allen is out of the lineup and will be for a bit longer. While the loss of a player the caliber of Allen would certainly hurt, the rest of the Pioneer’s defense corps is stepping up in his absence. This weekend, it was Kimball Johnson (one goal and three assists), Jaxon Rutkowski (one goal and two assists), and Connor Fedorek (four assists) who did a lot of offensive damage from the blue line. Contributions from throughout the defense corps with Allen out is just what the Pioneers needed.
Vaulting Back To The Top
Last season, the Pioneers had the top offense in Division III. This season, they started the season scoring three goals in each of their first two games – albeit, against a very tough, number one-ranked Adrian Bulldogs team. After this weekend, Utica is back in the top ten in Division III in goals per game at 4.17. For perspective, the number two team on the list, Endicott, is at 4.86 goals per game (number one is Trinity with 7.50 but they have only played two games so far). It looks like the Pioneer’s offensive engine is getting warmed up.
The Pioneers were ranked number six in the most recent USCHO Division III poll. Current number three Geneseo lost both of their games this weekend, could this be an opportunity for the Pioneers to move up in the poll? We’ll find out on Monday.