The last time the Oswego State men's ice hockey team made the 90-mile trek to Utica, they left a 17-game unbeaten streak behind. The Pioneers beat the top-ranked Lakers 5-2 on Jan. 23, 2007 at the Utica Memorial Auditorium to hand the eventual National Champions their first loss of the 2006-07 season after a 14-0-3 start.
For many Oswegonians, the 2008-09 edition of coach Ed Gosek's Lakers have conjured up memories of that squad from three years ago. Their hot start—10 wins in their first 11 games, including a victory in each of their last nine contests—have earned them the nation's top ranking for the third time in four seasons.
Gary Heenan's Pioneers (4-5-2) also bear many resemblances to the team that last took their home ice against the Lakers. Utica has been inconsistent. After stating the season with a 2-0-1 mark in their first three games, they've gone winless on six of their last eight, a streak that started with a Nov. 14 loss in Oswego.
The Utica team that beat Oswego State in '07 was 7-6-3 and had just gone winless in a two-game series with Elmira. Their victory over the Lakers started them on a stretch in which they won six of seven games. The 2009-10 Pioneers are in need of a similar jump-start.
Senior Anthony Luckow has been shaky for the Pioneers in net (4-4-2, 3.13 GAA, .894 save percentage). Utica had reached out to former Oswego State goaltender Tim Potter in the off-season, but to no avail. Luckow's backup, Justin Bolla, has been even worse. The junior has stopped less than 84 percent of the shots he has seen while allowing four-and-a-half goals per 60 minutes.
As for the offense, three young forwards are averaging better than a point per game: Tim Coffman, Brian Gibbons, and Evan Chlanda. Coffman, a sophomore, has seven goals—five of which have come on the power play, third-most in the nation.
As a team, Utica has been lights-out on the man advantage. They've accumulated 23 goals on just 77 chances—the sixth-best conversion rate in the country (29.9 percent). Only Adrian has scored more power play goals this season (25). The Lakers would be wise to cut down on their nearly 16 penalty minutes per game average tonight.
IF YOU GO :
Be sure to take in the venue. The Utica Memorial Auditorium is unique in that it is not on Utica College's campus. Instead, it was built on the site of the old Erie Canal. The arena is in it's 51st season of use and served as the host to the 1962 Frozen Four. It can hold a crowd of 4,000 and was used to film scenes for the 1977 film "Slap Shot."
The arena also served as the model for the 1968 renovation of Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Face off is scheduled for 7 PM. Tickets are $5 for adults, $2 for students.
Photo - Utica College Athletics