The Utica College men's hockey team is yet again in the drivers' seat to possibly win a second consecutive UCHC conference tournament championship and for the first time in years, advance to the NCAA tournament.
It was not always easy, as Manhattanville scored on the opening shift of the game and any high pressure offense was kept to a minimum for over thirty minutes, save for Brad Becker's tying goal at 15:11 of the first. The status quo changed drastically late in the second period for what became another resilient Utica effort.
With the game tied at one and the energy of the game up for grabs, Utica found their attacking legs late in the final 2:12 of second period on a pair of power play goals to take the lead at 3-1. The Valiants pulled back within a goal, but the top-seeded Pioneers scored twice more late in the third to polish off a 5-2 win over third-seeded Manhattanville at the Adirondack Bank Center at the Utica Memorial Auditorium.
Utica takes a 1-0 series lead and needs a win or tie to claim the championship on Sunday. Game 2 is scheduled for 2 pm Sunday. Manhattanville needs a win to survive and force the series into a winner-take-all minigame. The winner of the series is the 2019 UCHC Champion and for the first time, will be the UCHC's automatic qualifier to the NCAA Division III tournament. Utica is seeking its first trip to the NCAA tournament since 2013 when they made the field as an at-large. Utica also moves up to tenth in the NCAA Pairwise Rankings that will be used to select and seed the tournament field.
The Pioneers are now 20-6-2 on the campaign and run their winning streak to eight, and their unbeaten streak to twelve straight games. The Pioneers will set a new team record for games played with their 29th appearance on Sunday and can also tie a school record with a 21st win.