Young women’s hockey team shows promise as all players are eligible to return next season

Photo+courtesy+of+Laurel+Simer.

Photo courtesy of Laurel Simer.

Matthew Breault, Assistant Sports Editor

The Utica College women’s ice hockey team finished its 2020-2021 season 6-7, with three games canceled due to the coronavirus. In the first round of the UCHC playoffs, Utica was defeated by the Nazareth Golden Flyers by a score of 5-3. 

This season marked the 19th straight season that Utica has made the postseason. Although the Pioneers finished with a winning percentage under .500 (.462) for the second straight season, the team showed signs of improvement.

The major highlight of the season happened on March 17 at Elmira College, when the Pioneers took down the previously undefeated Soaring Eagles 2-1. After going 16-0 at home during the previous season, the Pioneers handed Elmira its first loss at The Murray Athletic Center since March of 2019.

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Head Coach Dave Clausen, who is the first and only head coach in the program’s history, has had a successful reign as the leader of the Pioneers women’s hockey team. Clausen’s 283 wins as the head coach puts him tied for 22nd all-time in NCAA women’s ice hockey history. 

Although the Pioneers’ record was under .500 for just the fourth time in Clausen’s 20 seasons, he still believes this season was a successful one.

“I felt like we had a tremendous season and the record isn’t indicative of the quality of our team,” Clausen said. “We had an extremely tough schedule while playing nine of our games against teams that were ranked in the top 10 in the country. Beating the eventual league champs at the time showed the strides our young program made this season.”

Assistant Coach Joshua Graser was hired last year to assist Clausen in all facets of the program while bringing an incredible amount of hockey knowledge and experience to Utica. Before becoming a Pioneer coach, Graser spent the past two seasons as an assistant coach and director of hockey operations for Division I Colgate University.

During the 2020 U18 Women’s World Championships in Bratislava, Slovakia, Graser served as a video coach for the U.S. Women’s National Under-18 team and helped team U.S.A. win a gold medal. 

The progression of the Pioneers throughout the season is what stood out to him the most.

“Overall, I was so proud of the group at the end of the season,” Graser said. “Aside from hockey, it was the way that the group stayed together and took care of one another during a time of so much uncertainty.  On the ice, I felt that we just kept getting better as the year went and since we were a very young team, we all could feel the confidence growing throughout the year.”

Graser also added that he learned a lot about the young team and he is excited to see what they can do for next season.

“As a team, I feel we learned a lot about ourselves and as coaches, we learned where our strengths are and where we can improve,” Graser said. “Being able to have so many returners come back and have experience of playing college hockey is going to help us so much.  Our team’s belief in one another is very high right now and after a year where no one even knew if we would play, to leave the year with so much excitement and eagerness to come back is amazing.”

Photo courtesy of Laurel Simer.

The women’s ice hockey roster has 28 players, but only two of them are either seniors or graduate students. Rebecca Brown is the lone graduate student for the Pioneers and Lexi Stanisewski is the lone senior. However, an extra season of eligibility has been granted to all athletes due to the pandemic.

Stanisewski has accumulated 20 goals and 36 assists over the course of 92 games, while also being named to the UCHC All-Rookie team in 2018 and the UCHC All-Conference team in 2019. Stanisewski said she has fallen in love with Utica and it has impacted her decision-making process.

“It has been extremely bittersweet being a senior and as far as next year goes, I am still really undecided,” Stanisewski said. “There are also so many memories and friends that I have made along the way that makes leaving Utica so hard, that’s why I am leaning more towards coming back for another year and completing graduate school.”

With the entire team able to return next season, the Pioneers will look to pick up right where the team left off and have fun in the process.

“I feel we continued to make progress as the year progressed and I’d love to, at the end of next year, say we took another step in the right direction,” Graser said. “Most importantly though, I want to make sure the girls are having a great experience because that is a personal goal every year; making sure the girls enjoy coming to the rink, allow the rink to be a destination where they get to be themselves and have a great time enjoying being a team.”