Adam Ziobrowski, Staff Writer
The Utica College men’s hockey team has advanced to the United Collegiate Hockey Conference (UCHC) finals with a 5-2 victory over Neumann University on Feb. 24.
The semifinal game was scoreless through the first period until Neumann scored two goals in the second period to take the lead. However, according to freshman left wing Conor Landrigan, the team never lost focus.
“With our season on the line and down by two goals in the second period, the whole bench was calm and focused,” Landrigan said. “That really comes from the top down, and I think our leadership is unparalleled.”
The Pioneers got on the board when sophomore Daniel Fritz rifled home a shot from the point to make it a 2-1 contest with just 41 seconds remaining in the period.
Although they were down by a goal heading into the final period, the Pioneers fought hard, according to head coach Gary Heenan.
“We believed in each other and were resilient,” Heenan said.
In the third period the Pioneers scored the final four goals, including three in 48 seconds, en route to their 5-2 victory. Looking back on the game, senior Roman Ammirato felt the team did a lot of things well.
“I thought the thing we did best in the game was that with stuck with it,” Ammirato said. “We improved a lot as the game went on, and I believe that led to us winning and having a great third period.”
Overall the Pioneers were able to win more faceoffs, get more shots off and commit less penalties than Neumann.
Going forward, Ammirato feels extremely confident that he and the Pioneers can win the conference final and make a serious run.
“If we get the chance, I believe we have the right players to certainly make a serious run in the NCAA tournament,” Ammirato said. “It is something that our whole team believes in, and we feel that we can certainly make big things happen.”
He also noted that they have not looked past their next game and are “taking it one game at a time,” even with all the large aspirations.
The Pioneers will head to their second-straight conference title game where they will face Elmira College on March 3 at the Adirondack Bank Center at 7 p.m.
The Soaring Eagles have had the Pioneers’ number this season defeating them 5-1 in both of their meetings.
With Elmira still in the way of the Pioneers making an NCAA run, Heenan knows what his team must focus on to win the conference.
“We are facing the number one forward line in the country, we need to focus on shutting them down,” Hennan said.
Senior right defenseman Dalton Carter mentioned how he believes the team will approach this week’s game just like any other, with possibly just a little more studying.
“We will take this week just like any other week but maybe watch a little more video on the opposing team,” Carter said.
Members of the team are most looking forward to playing the conference final game on home ice in front of their fans, including Landrigan and Carter
“Our fans at the Aud are unmatched,” Landrigan said. “The energy they bring to every game is instrumental to our success. Every game this year has been the same. We wouldn’t be the team we are without them.”
Carter added, “As far as playing home goes, it will definitely help us. I mean, when we are playing great and scoring, the AUD gets pretty loud and it has to be pretty intimidating for opposing teams.”
Heenan also noted the importance of having home ice.
“Home ice is huge,” Heenan said. “The level of energy gets us through some tough spots.”