UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - The nationally-ranked No. 10 Utica College men's hockey team netted four second period goals and fended off a fierce comeback by visiting Amherst, ranked No. 8 in the country, as the Pioneers earned a 4-3 victory over the Lord Jeffs in front of a paid attendance of 3,816 at the Utica Memorial Auditorium Saturday night. The Pioneers (6-2) handed the Lord Jeffs (3-1-1) their first loss of the year and Utica has now defeated Amherst in three consecutive meetings dating back to 2010.
Utica's Rob Morton (New Hartford, NY/Merrimack (Hockey East)) netted two goals, including the first of the game and the eventual game-winner with less than four minutes to go in the second period, while freshman Joel Wetmore (Horseheads, NY/Lindsay (OJHL)) led UC with two assists.
“That's a huge win for us tonight. Obviously conference play is extremely important, but when you do not have an automatic bid in your league these non-conference games against great teams like Amherst become crucial when it comes down to the NCAA selection process at the end of the year,” said Head Coach Gary Heenan. “We played very well in spurts tonight and our defense played tough down the stretch to secure the early lead."
After a scoreless first period of play, the Pioneers exploded for three goals in less than six minutes to take a commanding 3-0 lead much to the delight of the large Utica contingent. Morton got UC started 2:13 into the second stanza, before sophomore transfer Louis Educate (Chicago, IL/Aberdeen (NAHL)) punched in his team-best eighth goal of the year at 6:58 to give UC a 2-0 lead. Educate's goal was a major turn of events, as UC defender Josh Schmitt (Buffalo, NY/Buffalo (OPJHL)) bailed goalie Nick Therrien (Rochester, NH/NY Apple Core (EJHL)) out by blocking an open net shot from Amherst, and Schmitt collected the puck only to find a streaking Educate on the other end of the ice. Educate beat Lord Jeff goalie Nathan Corey, five-hole, to give Utica the two goal advantage.
Just over one minute later sophomore Peter LaFosse (Merrimack, NH/Kimball Union Academy) netted his first goal of the year to give the Pioneers' a 3-0 advantage. LaFosse's goal came after Nathan Corey accidentally knocked the net off just slightly and Corey expected the play to be blown off, but the officials let the goal stand and UC found itself with a three goal advantage over the nation's eighth-ranked squad.
Amherst would not go down without a fight, netting their first goal of the evening just 1:48 later to cut UC's lead to 3-1.
All told the second period featured six of the game's seven goals, as Utica and Amherst each added one more tally before the period came to a close. Morton punched in his second of the night and the Lord Jeffs' Mike Rowbotham netted his third of the year, with 2:15 left in the stanza, to make the score 4-2 headed into the third and final period of action.
Johnny Van Siclen score with 4:02 left in regulation for Amherst to make it a 4-3 game and the Lord Jeffs pulled their goalie with 1:07 remaining but they could not manage the equalizer as the Pioneers skated away with the one goal victory.
Therrien stopped 29 shots in net for the Pioneers and improved to 5-1 on the year as Amherst earned a 32-29 shot advantage on the evening. Corey made 25 saves in net for the visitors. Both teams went 0-for-3 on the power-play.
Mike Moher finished the night with two assists for the Lord Jeffs, while Jon Gaffney (Dover, NJ/Springfield Blues (NAHL)), Ridge Garbutt (Toronto, Ontario/Brewster Academy (NH)), Evan Chlanda (Islip, NY/Springfield (EJHL)) and Justin Hogan (Val Therese, Ontario/Brooks Bandits (AJHL)) each chipped in with an assist for the Pioneers.
Utica returns to action next Saturday for the eighth annual New York Sash Teddy Bear Toss as the Pioneers host Buffalo State for a non-conference affair at 7 p.m. The contest will be televised live throughout New York State on the Time Warner Cable Sports Network. Fans who bring a stuffed animal to the contest will receive free admission and when the Pioneers score their first goal fans will throw their stuffed animals out onto the ice for collection and distribution to needy children throughout the holiday season. Last year the event was sold out and the Pioneers, alongside New York Sash, collected 4,500 stuffed animals.