Adam Ziobrowski, Staff Writer
The Utica Pioneers men’s hockey team were fresh off their 8-3 victory over Elmira College in the the UCHC championship and a national ranking when they got the news they would not advances to the NCAA tournament.
The NCAA committee denied them the opportunity to compete for the Division III national championship. The news came as a shock to most of the team, including head coach Gary Heenan.
“I feel badly for our group and for our seniors,” Heenan said. “We were legitimate contenders. Only one team is supposed to finish the year with a win; our players and fans got cheated. 21 wins, regular season and postseason champions isn’t enough? The process is broken.”
The team finished with a 21-5-1 record, which includes a 12-4 mark in conference play. Besides their .796 overall winning percentage, the team finished the season ranking fifth in the Eastern Region and had the most wins among the top 10 teams.
Players on the team were also shocked and heartbroken on Selection Sunday, senior Kevin Valenti said.
“I watched the selection show with a few teammates and when we found out we weren’t selected we were crushed,” Valenti said. “We were pretty silent, and it took a little time until we were able to talk to each other about it. All we could do at that point was reminisce about all the good times, especially being a senior.”
Classmate Dalton Carter shared his reaction when he found out the team was snubbed on selection Sunday.
“I watched the NCAA selection show with a couple of my teammates, and when I saw that we did not get selected I was very surprised and frustrated,” Carter said. “I mean, we had every right to be in the tournament.”
So far, time has not helped the team get over the NCAA tournament snub and the seniors on the team want an explanation.
“After a little more than a week of the season being over, I still find myself frustrated about the committee not selecting us,” Carter said. “Especially watching the scores and teams that are doing well in the tournament that, in my mind, we would beat no doubt.”
As for Valenti, he believes he will never get over being snubbed.
“It’s something that I think will haunt me forever,” he said. “It will always be the season that could’ve been, and we will never know what would’ve happened.”
Valenti is doing his best to stay positive in this situation.
“As a senior, I will always be able to say I ended my hockey career with a win,” he said. “Which is something that a lot of people can’t say.”
It is unclear as to why the team was overlooked despite having a strong overall record. However, Valenti points to one particular aspect of their case that left them out of the field.
“It all came down to how the committee valued certain criteria,” Valenti said. “Despite us having one of the highest win percentages in the nation, our strength of schedule was too low for them to warrant us an at-large bid. It’s something that we had no control of. We took care of business on our end, but unfortunately it was out of our hands.”
Carter explained the team lacked quality wins and lost important games.
“In my opinion, the committee didn’t select us because of our strength of schedule,” Carter said. “On the other hand, I think if we would have beat Adrian College and Oswego State then we would have been selected.”
Regardless of their schedule strength, Heenan and his players will always feel they were snubbed. When Heenan mentioned how the process was broken, he shared a very simple solution to fixing it: “Stick to the numbers.”