Cassandra Raynor, Staff Writer
Hockey season is finally back this Friday for Utica College, and the Pioneers are looking forward to a successful turnout. After finishing last season with a 18-9 record and falling short in the conference final, the Pioneers have a fresh start this season as they host Fredonia at the newly named and renovated Adirondack Bank Center at 7pm.
Head Coach Gary Heenan believes that the Pioneers have something to prove this year, and the preseason ranking polls back that up. According to USCHO.com, the Pioneers are ranked 14th in a national preseason poll.
The Pioneers are no longer a part of the ECAC West Conference as they move into the United Collegiate Hockey Conference. Utica expects to build on last year’s performance and take first place in the conference.
Senior captain Brett Szajner believes that the team’s chemistry will be crucial this season. He thinks the chemistry will help the upperclassmen guide the new players in a positive direction and keep them focused on the upcoming season.
“The leadership group makes sure we take each day separately,” Szajner said. “We try and focus on the little things that championship teams perfect. Constant improvement from everyone is extremely important.”
Szajner says that the family-like relationship the team shares will separate the Pioneers from their opponents and make the newcomers feel right at home.
Heenan is confident that the eight freshman and two transfers will adapt well and make a difference on this team.
This past weekend, the Pioneers traveled to Endicott College for an exhibition game and two of the three goals recorded by the Pioneers were by freshmen Conor Landrigan and Brett Everson.
Everson feels a strong connection with the team.
He struggled when he first came to Utica, but the freshman’s teammates helped him get acclimated to to the school. Within his short time as a member of the Pioneers, Everson believes that Utica has “all the right pieces and culture to make a good run at the national championship.”
“My first goal is to be a staple in the lineup and establish myself as a college hockey player,” Everson said. “I feel pretty good about my performance last weekend, and I just plan to play my game, learn from the older guys and learn from the coaches.”
Szajner believes that all members of the team have the same goal in mind and hopes that this year they can reach it.
“I think we have the taste of revenge in our mouth and want to prove to our community and school we can make it further,” Szajner said. “We have a resilient group, a tight locker room and bring our best to the rink everyday.”
The Pioneers believe they worked hard on and off the ice and are confident in their ability to perform and make history.
“We have a talented team that screams character,” Heenan said. “We are optimistic that this will be another good year for UC hockey.”