This year marks the return of the NCAA Division III Men’s Hockey Tournament, which hasn’t taken place since 2019 due to COVID-19.
The Utica University Pioneers earned a spot in the 2020 tournament, but unfortunately could not compete. The Pioneers have now earned a spot in this year’s tournament after a very successful season that has resulted in the team being ranked No. 2 in numerous national polls.
How they got here
The Utica University men’s hockey team is currently 25-2-1 and finished the regular season as the top team in the United Collegiate Hockey Conference.
The Pioneers followed that up with a UCHC tournament victory that earned them an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.
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The Pioneers earned a first round bye. The team will host the University of New England Nor’Easters in the quarterfinals at Adirondack Bank Center at the Utica Memorial Auditorium at 2 pm Saturday, March 19.
The Nor’Easters are ranked No.8 in the country and come into this game with a 22-3-1 record after defeating Plymouth State in the first found of the NCAA Tournament.
The Pioneers enter the tournament having not lost a game since Nov. 27. Utica is 18-0-1 since that game and have dominated their opponents over this stretch. The Pioneers also have outscored opponents 115-23 over the last 19 games.
Utica leads the nation in goals scored and goals allowed. Goaltender Sean Dickson is only giving up 1.35 goals per game.
Utica has had contributions from many players this season, as is evident from their six players earning All-UCHC honors.
The Pioneers’ junior Dante Zapata was named UCHC Player of the Year, named to the All-UCHC first team and was a UCHC All-Tournament team selection. Heading into the NCAA Tournament, Zapata has 43 points including 16 goals and 27 assists.
Defensive teammates Justin Allen and Jayson Dobay also earned top honors for the Pioneers this season. Allen and Dobay were both named to the All-UCHC first team. Allen also earned Defensive Player of the Year honors and was named to the UCHC All-Tournament team. Dobay was named the Most Valuable Player in the UCHC Tournament.
Senior forward Regen Cavanagh and junior forward Buster Larsson lead the team with 46 points each and both were named to the UCHC first team. Cavanagh also leads the team in goals (20) and was a UCHC All-Tournament team selection.
Other Pioneers to earn accolades this season are Brandon Osmundson, who was named to the All-UCHC second team and Dickson who was named to the UCHC All-Tournament team.
Head Coach Gary Heenan also earned UCHC Coach of the Year honors.
If the Pioneers pull off the win, they will advance to the semifinals at Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid on Friday, March 25.
Kenny Lacy is a sports reporter for the Observer-Dispatch. Email Kenny Lacy at [email protected]