UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) – The nationally-ranked No. 15 Utica College men's hockey team won its fourth straight ECAC Men's West Conference contest as the Pioneers defeated visiting Nazareth College 5-2 at the Utica Memorial Auditorium Friday night.
The Pioneers were led by one goal and two assists from senior Jon Gaffney (Dover, NJ/Springfield Blues (NAHL)), while classmate Steve Charest (Amqui, Quebec/Walpole Express (AJHL)) chipped in with a career-high three assists to give him five helpers in his last two outings.
"This was another good win for our guys on our home ice against a hot Nazareth team," said 13th year Head Coach Gary Heenan. "This type of momentum late in the season is very important as we prepare for the conference tournament."
The Pioneers now have a two point advantage in the league standings, having played one more contest than second place Elmira College. Elmira tied Manhattanville on Friday night and will make up the one game deficit on Saturday night against the host Valiants. Utica's record moved to 14-5-4 overall and 9-3-1 in conference play with the victory. The Pioneers are in search of their second consecutive ECAC Men's West Conference regular season title, an honor they shared with Hobart College last year.
Nazareth's record dropped to 7-15-1 overall and 3-9-1 in the ECAC West. The Golden Flyers were led by two goals from Ben Blasko.
UC took a 2-0 lead in the first period of play when senior Ridge Garbutt (Toronto, Ontario/Brewster Academy (NH)) and freshman Luc Boby (Chicago, IL/Kalamazoo (NAHL))scored back-to-back goals in the span of 5:29 to give the Pioneers an early advantage. It was Boby's fifth goal in his last four games. Senior forward Trever Hertz (Jaffray, British Columbia/Quesnel Millionaires (BCHL)) assisted on the Pioneers first goal of the game and he now needs just one more point to become the third player in program-history to score 100 or more points in a career. Gaffney also assisted on the first two goals of the game for Utica and he now has 93 career points in 100 games played.
Blasko answered back for Naz just 1:01 into the second period when he tallied his team-best 10th goal of the season to cut the Golden Flyer's deficit in half, 2-1. The Pioneers pushed their lead back to two goals just 1:28 later when sophomore Joel Wetmore (Horseheads, NY/Lindsay (OJHL)) netted his first goal of the season off assists from seniors Adam Graff (Bear, DE/Syracuse Stars (EJHL)) and Steve Zappia (Buffalo, NY/Buffalo Jr. Sabres (OJAHL)).
Before the end of the second period the Pioneers would go up by three goals as Justin Hogan (Val Therese, Ontario/Brooks Bandits (AJHL)) punched in his fourth tally of the season, with 4:36 remaining in the period, off assists from Charest and Mike Baird (Oakville, Ontario/Huntsville (OJHL)). Baird leads all Utica defensemen with 11 assists this season.
Blasko added another goal in the third period to make it a 4-2 game, but the Pioneers had the answer once again, as Gaffney netted his second of the night with 6:35 remaining to close out the scoring on the evening with the Pioneers on top, 5-2.
Utica's Nick Therrien (Rochester, NH/NY Apple Core (EJHL)) won his fourth straight game in goal and he now has 44 career victories, just three shy of tying the program-record for wins in a career set by UC alum Adam Dekker back in 2008. Therrien stopped 27 shots on the afternoon while his counterpart Ed Zdolshek made 28 stops.
Utica returns to action to wrap up regular season play next Friday and Saturday night at the Aud as the Pioneers host Manhattanville College (7 p.m. both nights).