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Utica University men's hockey notches back-to-back UCHC titles; Utica, Hamilton women's teams fall

Ben Birnell
Sports writer
email / twitter
Posted 3/4/23

The Utica University men’s hockey team experienced a little more adversity than anticipated in a quest for back-to-back conference titles while the Utica and Hamilton College women's teams fall short in respective conference tournaments.

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Utica University men's hockey notches back-to-back UCHC titles; Utica, Hamilton women's teams fall


UTICA — The Utica University men’s hockey team experienced a little more adversity than anticipated in a quest for back-to-back conference titles. 

The nationally ranked No. 1 Pioneers had to contend with conceding an early goal, halting a five-minute penalty and a Nazareth squad that didn’t go quietly Saturday in the United Collegiate Hockey Conference championship game. 

With help from a four-goal second period, a veteran Pioneers squad is continuing an impressive season with a 5-3 victory to earn their fourth UCHC title after making their fifth appearance in the championship in six seasons. 

“We got pushed tonight. We haven’t been pushed a lot (this season). I think it will help our guys. We had a little adversity tonight,” said Utica coach Gary Heenan, whose team is 14-0-1 at home this season. "I’m proud of our guys. It wasn’t our best performance. But, we’re moving on.”

Perhaps most importantly for the Pioneers (25-2-1 overall) is an automatic bid into the NCAA Division III tournament. The field of 12 teams was announced Monday morning and the Pioneers earned the top-seed. The team received a bye into the quarterfinals and will host the winner of Plymouth State and University of New England on March 18.

“It is a surreal feeling,” said Utica captain Dante Zapata, of being named the tournament Most Valuable Player after scoring twice including an empty-netter late to seal it. “I’m just thankful that we have a great group of guys that believe in each other. Anyone can step up at any point in time. Sometimes you have to seize the moment.” 

On Saturday, Buster Larsson (goal, assist), Brandon Osmundson (goal, assist), Regen Cavanagh (two assists) and John Moncovich (two assists) had multi-point efforts for a Utica team that outshot Nazareth 50-28. Kimball Johnson also scored as part of the four-goal output.

Goaltender Bryan Landsberger made 28 saves and was part of the all-tournament team along with Zapata and team points leader Jayson Dobay.

Utica, with 12 total seniors and graduate students, extended the program’s record undefeated streak to 26 straight games and winning streak to 18.

“I just think the culture we’ve built is at an all-time high,” alternate captain Justin Allen said. “We have so much belief. All 12 of us were like, ‘oh, we have one more year.’ But, this is it for us. We have to take it all the way.”

Saturday took some work, though, after Utica rolled past Arcardia and Manhattanville by a combined score of 16-2 in the quarterfinals and semis.

An aggressive Nazareth squad scored on a redirection by Michael DiSchiavi near the midpoint of a solid opening period against Utica.

"We weren't making plays, we weren't lugging pucks. We were just kind of hestitant. I think the players thought it might come a little easier than that, and so we came out a little lax. It was a first period we liked," Heenan said. 

Then, shortly after Osmundson tied it early in the second period, Utica’s John Gutt was whistled for five-minute major and a game misconduct forchecking from behind. 

The team had nearly killed it all off before Zapata’s shorthanded tap-in put Utica ahead. The Pioneers added two goals 1:36 apart later from Larsson and Johnsson for a three-goal lead. 

However, Nazareth kept it close with a late goal in the second period. While Utica controlled much of the third, Logan Tobias scored with eight minutes to make the deficit one. 

Utica held Nazareth off the rest of the way, though.

“I think the message for us was just not to panic,” Zapata said when things got tight in the game. “We know what we’re capable of. We know if we play our game the right way, they’re not going to be able to the keep the pace.” 

Utica women fall

The No. 12 ranked Utica women’s hockey team’s first trip the UCHC title game needed double overtime against No. 13 Nazareth.

The Pioneers ended up on the short end of the result despite Angela Hawthorne totaling 48 saves. 

Julia Holmes scored 1:55 into the second overtime on a shot from the point that trickled in to help top-seeded Nazareth top Utica 3-2 on Saturday in the UCHC final in Rochester. 

With the win, Nazareth gets an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Utica did not get an at-large bid to the tournament.

Utica had played Nazareth to a tie and a 2-1 overtime loss when ranked teams met in mid-February. 

Utica is 22-3-3 overall with all three losses happening on the road. 

On Saturday, Utica scored twice in the second period with goals less than three minutes apart by Maggie Rylott and Carly Stefanini for a 2-1 lead.

The game remained that way until the third period. Utica had to kill off consecutive penalties before getting a power-play late. 

However, Nazareth’s Abby Flanagan scored with 7.6 seconds remaining in regulation to force overtime. 

Erica Sloan, Stefanini and Hawthorne were named to the All-UCHC tournament team.

Hamilton women shutout

The No. 6 ranked Hamilton College women's hockey team dropped a 5-0 decision to No. 4 ranked Amherst College in the New England Small College Athletic Conference final on Saturday in Massachusetts.

Hamilton, playing in the NESCAC final for the first time, was the No. 2 seed in the tournament while Amherst was the top seed.

Hamilton (20-5-2) split two games with Amherst to begin the season, including a 4-0 setback and a 2-0 win.

Hamilton will wait to find out if it receives one of the at-large bids Sunday.


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