STAMFORD, Conn. — Utica took one stride closer to its second ECAC West title in program history after a 3-2 victory against host Manhattanville on Friday night at Terry Conners Rink.A tie in Saturday’s season-finale against the Valiants would secure UC the top seed in the conference tournament for the first time since the 2004-05 season.
Utica, which is ranked No. 1 in the first NCAA East Regional rankings released Tuesday, won its 20th game for the first time in school history and improved to 20-4 overall and 11-3 in conference action. Manhattanville dropped to 13-9-2 overall and 6-6-2 in the ECAC West.
“We’ve done a great job of taking it one game at a time this year and I think [Friday night] was another good example of that. Now we can concentrate on coming away with the same type of result [Saturday,” said Utica head coach Gary Heenan, who won the 164th game of his career as the only coach in program history. “One of the goals we set at the beginning of the year was to win the regular-season series against each ECAC West opponent and we are happy to have accomplished that goal.”
Leading 2-1, Utica junior forward Jon Gaffney netted what proved to be the game-winner with 3:42 left in the game. Sophomore forward Louie Educate snapped a 1-1 tie 5:23 into the third period when he scored his 17th tally of the season for the Pioneers. Educate, who has scored big goals when it has counted all season, currently leads the ECAC West and ranks 15th nationally with 1.42 points per contest.
Utica goalie Nick Therrien stopped 30 shots during the final two periods to secure the victory. Utica came away with a 37-36 shot advantage in the game, earning a 15-6 advantage after one period of play. Therrien’s stellar play down the stretch earned him first-star honors in the contest, and his 18 wins in net this year leads all of Division III hockey.
Utica’s Eric Peterson got the Pioneers off on the right foot with his fourth goal of the year 7:11 into the first period. Sophomore Justin Hogan registered two assists for Utica, while Gaffney also finished with two points on one goal and one assist.