Abin Boris, Sports Editor
It had been almost a full year since Utica College last played hockey within the Utica Memorial Auditorium. Over the past weekend, however, that wait finally ended.
Both the men’s and women’s teams hit the ice over the weekend as the men’s team opened with two exhibition games against the United States U-17 National Team while the women’s team opened their regular season with a back-to-back set against Castleton University.
The two teams found similar outcomes as they each split their series against their respective opponents.
In their first bout against Castleton, the women’s team put up a strong effort but fell in regulation to the Spartans in a 2-1 battle. In the loss, Freshman Carly Stefanini was able to net the first goal of her collegiate career and ultimately the only goal of the game for the Pioneers. The Spartans were able to squeak by the Pioneers after a power-play goal in the 2nd period ended up becoming the game-winning goal.
Utica came back the next day with a lot more energy and offense as they put up a five-spot against the Spartans to win by a score of 5-1 to give the Pioneers their first win of the season. Four Utica skaters were able to pot goals with Stefanini scoring two of the five goals in the game.
After this weekend set of games for the team, there looks to be an incredible amount of promise and potential for the team who is coming off of a down year where they posted a record of 9-16-1. This potential with the infusion of new young players is something Head Coach Dave Clausen finds optimistic at the start of the season.
“We have great depth and a good mix of players,” he said. “We also have a good group of young talented freshmen and sophomores.”
As for the men’s team, they were able to come away with a victory in their first game back by a score of 6-5 after Brett Everson tallied his third point of the game late in the 3rd period on the power play to help lift the Pioneers past the US U-17 team.
The Pioneers were not able to carry over any of the momenta from the night before as they were silenced in the second game by a score of 3-0.
Although it was an exhibition game and none of the stats will be counted for anything, it is worth noting that this was the first loss the Pioneers have been dealt since Dec. 6, 2019. The 3-0 loss is the first time Utica has been shut out in a loss since March 5, 2016, when they fell 5-0 against Hobart College.
This season will operate under different circumstances due to COVID-19 protocol. This includes the fact that no fans are allowed inside the rink this season. This is a big loss for both teams, especially the men’s team who have averaged the highest home attendance for any DIII program for 15 straight seasons.
Anybody who is looking to watch throughout the season will have to go to the live stream broadcasted by Utica College and the sports department. You can access this feature by going to ucpioneers.com and clicking on either men’s or women’s hockey schedule, scrolling to the game you are looking for and clicking on “watch” and that will bring you directly to the live stream of the game.
Star forward and last year’s UCHC Co-Player of the Year, Connor Landrigan, who is entering his fourth season with the Pioneers knows just how impactful the fans can be during a home game and since they will not be around this year he understands that things will feel a little different.
“I think a lack of fans definitely affects the energy playing in the Aud,” he said. “ We no longer have that extra push that can help sway momentum during a game.”
With the memories of last year’s historic run and eventual disappointing end due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pioneers are going to have to put aside the heartbreak and get prepared for a hockey season like no other.
Brandon Osmundson, who in his first season racked up 42 points (13G 29A) on his way to earning UCHC Freshman of the Year is confident the team can find themselves in the same position come the end of the season.
“I am confident that our team has another great opportunity to not just win the UCHC regular-season title but also the playoff title as well,” he said. “After playing Team USA U17 this past weekend in two exhibition games, there were many positives we can take out of those games moving forward that will help us prepare for the start of conference games.”
It has been a long time since Utica fans and athletes have been able to enjoy hockey here at Utica College but the time has finally come and everyone involved should be excited and honored that we have finally arrived at this point.
“We’ve waited so long to play and so many teams aren’t playing that I feel lucky to have the ability to play,” Landrigan said. “I think everyone is very excited to play and make another run at the league championship.”