Right Now is a Great Time if You’re a Fan of Utica Hockey

Photo credit: adkbankcenter.com

The Utica Comets along with the Utica College Pioneers Men’s and Women’s Hockey Teams have given hockey fans in Utica, NY plenty to cheer about this season.

Utica, NY is the place to be if you like winning hockey.

The city is home to one of the best teams in the American Hockey League in the Utica Comets. It is also home to the Utica University Pioneers Men’s Hockey Team which happens to be the number two ranked team in all Division III college hockey as they enter the second round of the UCHC Tournament. The University’s Women’s team has been a success as well, posting a 21-5 overall record and like the men’s team is heading into the second round of their UCHC Tournament.

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Let’s start with the Comets. The Utica Comets came into existence in 2013, and put their stamp on the Mohawk Valley when they went all the way to Calder Cup Final in 2015. This season, their NHL affiliation switched from the Vancouver Canucks to the New Jersey Devils when the Devils moved their team from the city of Binghamton to the Adirondack Bank Center. With the move, the Comets have new colors, a new roster, and have been a runaway success thus far this season.

The Comet’s success begins behind the bench, coach Kevin Dineen has instilled a strong work ethic and structure within his team that has launched them to the top of the AHL standings for much of the season. It was apparent right from the start, as Utica set the American Hockey League record for most consecutive wins to start a season with thirteen. Led by the rock-solid goaltending of Nico Daws and Akira Schmid, the offensive exploits of Fabian Zetterlund, Alexander Holtz, Chase DeLeo, AJ Greer, and Reilly Walsh, the Comets have been a juggernaut on both ends of the ice. Throw in the grit of Nate Schnarr, Nolan Foote, Ryan Schmelzer, Nikita Okhotiuk, and Kevin Bahl among others, and the Comets have been one of the toughest teams to play against in the American Hockey League all season long.

Prior to the arrival of the Comets, the Utica University Pioneers were the only game in town as far as hockey went at the Adirondack Bank Center (then known only as of the Utica Memorial Auditorium). Coach Gary Heenan’s Men’s Team has been one of the most successful programs in not just Division III but in all of college hockey. The Pioneers have won six straight regular-season conference titles and nine overall, they have two conference playoff titles, and an appearance in the Division III Frozen Four. This season’s team is currently ranked number two in the nation as of this writing (February 25th, 2022), has an overall record of 23-2-1 with a UCHC mark of 17-0-1-1. The Pioneers did not take the easy way out schedule-wise either, as they played six games against teams that are ranked or were ranked at the time they played them – including two games against current number one Adrain College and former number one SUNY Geneseo.

Dante Zapata (#36) and Brett Everson of the Utica Pioneers look to make a play against the Manhattanville College Valiants at the Adirondack Bank Center on February 19th, 2022. Photo credit: Scott Kinville.

Utica has a good mixture of veterans and underclassmen which should ensure the team continues to be a success in the future. Senior or graduate players include goaltender Sean Dickson, defensemen Justin Allen, Cameron Bartkowski, and Vaden McManus. Joining the senior and graduate student group at forward are Brett Everson, Eric Holland, Mic Curran, Regen Cavanagh, and Jamie Bucell. Key contributors that are currently juniors or lower are forwards Buster Larsson (who leads the team in points), John Moncovich (who leads the team in goals scored), Dante Zapata (who serves as the team captain), Brandon Osmundson, Cameron Patton, Khristian Acosta, and Remy Parker. Joining those forwards on next season’s team and beyond are defensemen Jayson Dobay, Brian Scoville, Joey Berkopec, Mattias Dal Monte, Jaxon Rutkowski, and Blake Holmes while goaltenders Bryan Landsberger and Louis-Felix St. Jean are both freshmen and should be with the Pioneers for seasons to come.

The Pioneers are the number one seed in the UCHC Men’s Tournament and will take on the Manhattanville Valiants on Saturday night in the semifinal after demolishing Lebanon Valley on Tuesday. For more on that game and the Pioneers Women’s Team first-round game, click here: Utica Pioneers Dominate Their Playoff Games on Tuesday

The Utica University Pioneers Women’s Hockey Team has also been a success on the ice this season. Coach Dave Clausen, like Men’s coach Gary Heenan, is the only head coach his program has ever had and his team’s overall record this season is 21-5 to go with a 17-3 mark in the UCHC. The Pioneers are going into the semifinal of the UCHC Tournament this Saturday against the Manhattanville College Valiants after defeating the Alvernia University Golden Wolves on Tuesday.

The Pioneers are led on offense by Georgianna Santullo, who leads the team in both goals (28) and points (54). Rounding out the top five on the Pioneers scoring list are Erica Sloan (52), Carly Stefanini (39), Carolyn Whitney (30), and Rebecca Brown (29). Of those five, only Santullo and Brown are either senior or graduate students. In goal, sophomore Amanda Hawthorne has started the bulk of the Pioneers games has put together an outstanding season, posting a record of 14-2-0 to go with a GAA of 1.13 and a save percentage of .946.

In this episode “The Voice of the Utica Comets” Jason Shaya joins the crew to talk about the Comets from his perspective as the team’s play-by-play announcer! We chat about the keys to the team’s success, the unsung heroes, take a behind the scenes look at the preparation involved with doing the play by play of a hockey game, and who Jason thinks are the “best in the business” when it comes to hockey play by play announcers!

Afterward, the boys will discuss the Utica University Pioneers Men’s and Women’s hockey teams, news, Sean Avery signing in the ECHL – will we see him in the AHL, JT Miller, Semyon Varlamov, and more! Subscribe to Marty’s Illegal Stick Hockey Podcast on YouTube, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and all major podcast platforms! Check out our Facebook and Twitter pages and of course our website http://www.martysillegalstick.com.

Timestamps: Jason Shaya: 0:0031:00. Utica University Pioneers Men’s and Women’s Hockey Teams first-round games in the UCHC Tournament and looking ahead: 40:4554:45. Sean Avery signs in the ECHL, will we see him in the AHL?: 1:04:401:10:30.

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