UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - Despite falling to visiting Manhattanville 3-1 on Saturday night, the nationally-ranked No. 13 Utica College men's hockey team locked up the ECAC Men's West Conference regular season title after second place Elmira College dropped a 5-4 overtime decision against Hobart College. The Pioneers will host an ECAC Men's West Conference Tournament semifinal contest as the top seed in the conference tournament for the second consecutive season on March 2nd. UC's opponent and the game time are to be determined. Tickets are currently on sale at the Utica Memorial Auditorium Box Office or online HERE. For more UC home playoff ticket information please CLICK HERE.
"We wanted to come away with a win tonight and continue the positive momentum headed into the conference tournament next week. With that being said, we're excited about being in a position to host another home playoff game," said Head Coach Gary Heenan. "We have a little over a week to prepare for the conference tournament and earning the top seed is certainly a nice feather in our cap. Our guys know that we still have a lot of work to do to accomplish the goals we have set out for this season."
Utica has now won three ECAC West regular season titles in program-history. The Pioneers edged Manhattanville for the outright title in 2004-05, they shared the conference crown with Hobart but earned the top seed in the tournament last season, and this year they earned the outright title once again after finishing the regular season with a 10-4-1 ledger in conference play. 10 wins in the ECAC West is the second most in program-history behind last year's edition of the Pioneers who won 11 conference games.
Utica will head into post season play with a 15-5-4 overall record. Manhattanville closed out the regular season with a 12-11-2 overall mark and a 5-8-2 record in the ECAC West. The Valiants finished the regular season in fourth place and will host fifth place Neumann next week in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament.
After a scoreless first period the Pioneers fell into a 2-0 hole after Manhattanville netted two goals in a span of just under ten minutes. Third-line freshman defender Phil Dinner netted his second goal of the season 8:39 into the second stanza to give the visitors a 1-0 lead and senior forward Mark Rivera padded the Valiant lead with his ninth tally of the season at the 18:10 mark of the same period.
Utica was able to cut its deficit in half with 4:50 remaining in the contest when senior forward Jon Gaffney (Dover, NJ/Springfield Blues (NAHL)) scored his ninth of the season to make it a 2-1 game in the third period. Gaffney now has eight points in his last five outings and he moved into sole possession of fourth place on the College's all-time scoring list with 94 career points. Gaffney surpassed 2013 UC graduate Evan Chlanda (Islip, NY/Springfield (EJHL)) (93 career points) for fourth all-time. Freshman Ryan Walker (Detroit, MI/Kenai River (NAHL)) and senior forward Trever Hertz (Jaffray, British Columbia/Quesnel Millionaires (BCHL)) assisted on the Pioneers' lone tally of the evening. On Friday night Hertz became just the third player in program-history to score 100 or more points in a career.
Manhattanville added an empty-netter to secure the victory with 36 seconds left as senior captain Luc Van Natter scored his team-best 15 goal of the season. Van Natter now has a team-high 30 points on the season.
Utica goalie Nick Therrien (Rochester, NH/NY Apple Core (EJHL)) stopped 23 shots in the loss, while his counterpart Alex Scola stopped 28 shots in his ninth win of the season.
UC outshot Manhattanville 29-26 on the afternoon and both teams were held scoreless on the power-play.