Jacqui White, Sports Editor
The Utica College men’s ice hockey team has advanced to the United Collegiate Hockey Conference (UCHC) tournament finals for the second year in a row. The Pioneers swept the Nazareth Golden Flyers in a best-of-three series to advance.
On Saturday, Feb. 23, the Pioneers won with the first game of the series with a score of 2-1. The Pioneers scored both of their goals in the first period, as did Nazareth with their one goal. The first goal was scored by sophomore left wing Conor Landrigan, with the assists coming from junior defender Daniel Fritz and senior right wing Gregg Burmaster. The second goal of the period for Utica came from freshman Nick Yzaguirre, with assists coming from senior defender Zach Borsoi and Fritz.
On Sunday, Feb. 24, the Golden Flyers took the early lead after scoring goals in both the first and second periods. Utica answered with a goal from Burmaster that was assisted by freshman forward Tyler Dill and junior right wing Tyler Rutkowski. The next goal for Utica came during the third period by Fritz with assists from Burmaster and senior left wing Shawn Lynch. The game winning goal was scored by Fritz with 50 seconds left in overtime, with assists coming from Borsoi and Burmaster.
Goalie Gianluca Baggetta explained why the Pioneers were able to come with a dominant series sweep of the Golden Flyers.
“We stayed disciplined during the games,” he said. “We followed the game plan.”
Baggetta said that even on Sunday when the Pioneers were down 2-0 in the second period, they never felt like they were out of control of the game.
“Our plans for the upcoming games against Manhattanville is to stay focused on what we’re doing,” Baggetta said.
He explained that even though Manhattanville is a very experienced team, the Pioneers plan on doing the exact same thing they did to prepare for the semifinals to hopefully win the tournament this weekend.
“We want to put in our best effort and play back-to-back great games,” he said.
Senior right wing Justin Derlago echoed Baggettas’ thoughts about the past weekend against Nazareth.
“Both of the games this past weekend were a total team effort,” Derlago said. “The entire team had been practicing and preparing for the games. Everyone was excited for the playoffs. It brings a little snarl to how people practice.”
Derlago said that knowing they were going against Nazareth made everyone a little more honest in how they practiced and how they would approach the game.
“There was more motivation from all of the players to show more will to be in the game when we were practicing leading up to the games,” Derlago said.
Derlago said that being in the semifinals for the tournament increased the hype, helping the athletes “kick it up a notch” in practice.
“It helped the team buy in, it elevated our game and the will to win,” he said.
Derlago explained that by being down 2-0 in the second game, the team knew they had to turn around and win.
“Tyler Dill passed the puck to Gregg Burmaster for the first goal of the game,” Derlago said. “Hockey is a team game, but those two deserve some credit for turning the ship around for us.”
Derlago and the rest of the Pioneers are expecting and preparing for a different type of game against Manhattanville.
“We know Manhattanville is a different type of opponent than Nazareth,” he said. “We’ve been watching videos, drawing back on past games we’ve had against them and what we expect them to change.”
Puck drop for the Pioneers’ first and second games versus Manhattanville College is set for March 2 at 7 p.m. and March 3 at 2 p.m. inside the Adirondack Bank Center.