LAKE PLACID, N.Y. - The Utica College hockey team's most prolific season in program-history came to end on Friday night after a 5-1 loss at the hands of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in the semifinals of the NCAA Division III men's hockey tournament at Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid, N.Y. After the Pioneers jumped out to a 1-0 lead midway through the second period, the Blugolds answered with four consecutive goals, including two that came in a span of just 22 seconds, as UWE earned the right to play in their first NCAA men's hockey championship in program-history.
“We brought a lot of jump to the game right away, we were ready to go. This is a good group of guys we have. We just didn't capitalize on our scoring chances,” said UC junior assistant captain Jon Gaffney (Dover, NJ/Springfield Blues (NAHL)) who tallied one assist on the evening.
The Pioneers closed out their historic season with a 21-6-1 overall record, while the Blugolds advanced to 23-5-2 overall and will take on Oswego State Saturday night (7 p.m.) in the National Championship game.
“[Our seniors] deserve all the credit in the world. Our leadership has been just awesome, I can't say enough about the leadership of this team,” said Head Coach Gary Heenan of his senior class. “They've got our culture going in a great direction in the locker room, around campus and in the classroom.”
Each team got a feel for the “big game” in the first period and Utica junior goalie Nick Therrien (Rochester, NH/NY Apple Core (EJHL)) stopped 11 shots in the 20 minute stretch to help the Pioneers preserve a 0-0 tie headed into the second period of action.
The Pioneers broke the scoreless tie when they jumped out to a 1-0 lead exactly ten minutes into the second period behind a lightening wrister from the stick of sophomore first team All-American Louie Educate (Chicago, IL/Aberdeen (NAHL)), into the top right corner of the net. UC junior assistant captain Jon Gaffney (Dover, NJ/Springfield Blues (NAHL)) was credited with an assist on Educate's 18th goal of the season. Educate finished his first year with the Pioneers (transferred from Nichols College in the Fall) just one goal shy of tying Tim Coffman (Elverson, PA/Laconia (AJHL))'s school-record for goals in a single season.
3:15 later the Blugolds netted the equalized to knot the score at 1-1 with 6:45 left in the second period. The team's leading scorer Jordan Singer netted his 21st goal of the season through the five hole of UC's Nick Therrien (Rochester, NH/NY Apple Core (EJHL)). Just 22 seconds later Ross Andersen put the Blugolds on top 2-1 with his first of two goals on the evening. At that point the team from the Western Region never really looked back.
An early third period tally from the Blugolds set the tone for the final 20 minutes and two more goals, including an empty netter, sealed the victory for UWE. Kurt Weston netted two third period goals for the Blugolds, while Ross Anderson slid home the empty-netter, his second goal of the night, to give UWE a four goal advantage with 2:39 to play.
“We've come out flat a few times through the year and we've gotten a goal and it got us going. Tonight we got the goal from Louie but they responded,” said Heenan, who was a finalist for the National Coach of the Year Award. “That's a big strong veteran club there and they deserve a lot of credit … We had our chances, certainly we had our chances, their goalie played great.”
Utica outshot the Bludgolds 32-26 on the afternoon, but first team All-American Brandon Stephens stopped 31 of those shots, including 24 in the final 40 minutes to secure the victory for UWE.
Utica went 0-for-6 on the power-play on the afternoon. UC's Nick Therrien (Rochester, NH/NY Apple Core (EJHL)) stopped 21 shots in his final game of the season. Therrien finished the year with a program-record 19 victories.
Wisc.-Eau Claire and Utica were both making their first NCAA Tournament appearance in either program's history. The Blugolds have had a program for 36 seasons, while the Pioneers are in their 12th year of existence, all under the guidance of Head Coach Gary Heenan.
Oswego defeated Norwich 6-3 in the opener Friday night to earn the right to play in the national championship game against Wisconsin-Eau Claire on Saturday.