Zach Thomann, Assistant Sports Editor
The Utica College men’s hockey team defeated Neumann University in the ECAC West semi-finals 4-3 in front of their home crowd. After having a 3-0 lead six minutes into the third period, Neumann fought its way back to a tie game but the Pioneers responded quickly to end the game before overtime.
The first period was physical. Sticks were smacking the glass and players rattled the boards with each hit they took. Shots on goal were scarce with no team giving the other opportunities to score. After the period was over, neither team went to the locker room with a point on the scoreboard.
The complexion of the game change right when the puck dropped in the second. Utica started on the power-play after Neumann Senior Lauri Viitanen was called for interference right before the first period ended.
With one minute gone by in the period, Utica Junior Anthony McVeigh gathered a rebound off a shot and quickly fired the puck into the net. The crowd jumped out of their seats and the horn blasted to signal a Pioneer goal.
“It’s awesome to hear a big crowd,” Utica freshman goaltender Patrik Virtanen said. “We have great fans.”
Six minutes after the first goal, Neumann led a two on one break but the Pioneers deflected the puck and passed it ahead to create a two on one of its own. Sophomore Zach Borsoi received a cross from senior Luc Boby and fired a shot past Neumann freshman goaltender Anthony Pupplo.
Neumann had its chances to get on the scoreboard including two breakaway opportunities that led to two Virtanen saves. The second save ended in a collision with a Neumann forward when they both dove to get the puck. Play was stopped shortly after because Virtanen’s helmet flew off during the hit. The trainer came onto the ice to check on the Pioneer goaltender when the team noticed that Virtanen wasn’t getting up. After a few minutes, Virtanen was on his feet and accompanied by cheers from the crowd. He would finish the game and end with 33 saves.
At the end of the second period, Utica had a two-goal lead. The staff working in the penalty box tossed out candy to fans during the intermission.
Utica was the first to score in the third period when junior Roman Ammirato was found wide open in front of the net and chipped a shot in for a goal.
Neumann would respond one minute later with a goal from senior Matt Zendejas to cut the lead to two goals.
Eight minutes ticked off the clock before Neumann was on the scoreboard again with a shot from sophomore Joe Mitchell who was able to get the puck past Virtanen.
With only five minutes left in the game, Utica still held a one-goal lead. With the fans putting more interest into the close game, Neumann freshman Thomas Mansbridge silenced the crowd with a goal to tie the game two minutes later.
The intensity picked up on the ice with Utica needing another goal to win. With two minutes left in the period, Borsoi sent a wrist shot near the blue line at the goal and somehow found the back of the net. The goal was his second of the game and won the game for the Pioneers.
The win puts Utica into the ECAC West finals where they will take on Hobart College in the Utica Aud Saturday. Hobart defeated Manhattanville College 6-2 and is now 19-4-4 this season.
Virtanen isn’t worrying about how talented Hobart is and is excited to play another game in front of a home crowd.
“We just have to go out there and play our game,” Virtanen said.