STAMFORD, Conn. – Junior Luc Van Natter stuffed home a rebound attempt with 28.5 seconds left in regulation and the Valiant net empty as the 15th-ranked Manhattanville men's hockey team rallied for a wild 4-4 (OT) tie with No. 7/2 Utica in both teams' regular-season finale on Saturday afternoon at Terry Conners Rink.
With Manhattanville fighting to keep its chances at a third seed alive in the waning moments, the Valiants pulled sophomore Alex Scola with 1:15 remaining in regulation. After keeping the puck in the offensive zone, senior assistant captain Scott Hudson shoveled a puck from the far wing toward the Utica net, and Van Natter somehow stuffed the rebound under the pads of Utica netminder Nick Therrien for the score to send the game into overtime.
The Pioneers had the only four shots on goal of the extra frame, but Scola turned them all aside and the Valiants escaped with one point against their nationally ranked foes.
Manhattanville (13-9-3, 6-6-3 ECAC West) will have to wait until tonight's games have been decided before discovering their opponent in the first round of the ECAC West Tournament, which will begin on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at Terry Conners Rink. If Neumann gets at least one point from its matchup against Nazareth tonight, then the Valiants would be the fourth seed and would host Elmira on Wednesday; if the Golden Flyers were to pull off the upset, the Valiants would host Nazareth as the third seed.
Van Natter had the dramatic goal for Manhattanville on the day, but the rest of the team's offense came from the blue line, as junior Adam Young and sophomores Anton Racklin and Kevin Struempfler also found the net for the home team. Hudson and classmate Jason Bowles led the team with two points apiece, with Hudson's two helpers moving him to within one point of becoming the program's fourth 100-point scorer.
Adam Graff had a goal and an assist to lead the Pioneers, while Jon Gaffney, Jordan Hobaica and Evan Chlanda also scored for the visitors.
Van Natter's late heroics capped a wild afternoon between the two teams, as the game featured dramatic momentum swings on both ends of the ice. In a stark difference from last night's contest, Manhattanville came out with a lot more fire in Saturday's first period, posting a 14-13 edge in shots and putting a ton of pressure on the Pioneer defensive unit.
That pressure did not result in a goal, however, until the home team capitalized on their first power-play chance of the game. Less than a minute into the man advantage, Racklin fired a shot from the blue line that redirected off a Utica player in front and past Therrien for his fifth goal of the year. Bowles and freshman Paul Allan Bamberg assisted on the score, which made it 1-0 with 4:06 remaining.
The Valiants went down a man a mere 20 seconds after the goal, but the Valiant penalty kill unit – helped by a pair of great saves from Scola – kept the Pioneers off the board and Manhattanville went into the intermission with a lead.
The second period was conversely dominated by the Pioneers, who outshot the Valiants by a 19-6 margin and scored the final two goals of the frame to even the score headed into the third.
Manhattanville started the period well, increasing its lead to 2-0 thanks to Struempfler's first collegiate tally. The sophomore took a pass from senior Brendan Turner and skated toward the middle of the slot before rifling a shot past Therrien at the 3:28 mark.
But the tide turned dramatically after Struempfler's tally, as Utica carried play for the remainder of the frame. Graff got his team on the board at the 10:25 mark with his 10th of the year, and Hobaica followed with a key shorthanded goal to even the score with 2:58 left in the period, as he forced a turnover in the defensive zone and then stuffed home his own rebound.
The swings of momentum continued in the third period, beginning with Young's top-shelf score less than four minutes in that regained the lead for the home team. But Utica came back with two goals in 4:20 later in the frame to grab its first lead of the night, as Gaffney finished off a nice two-on-one with Louie Educate to knot the score at 8:37 before Chlanda found himself all alone in the slot to beat Scola at the 12:57 mark.
All that did, however, was set the stage for the dramatic game-tying goal scored by Van Natter.
Utica finished the game with a 40-33 edge in shots. Scola stood strong in goal again for the Valiants with 36 saves, while Therrien made 29 saves for the Pioneers.
Whoever the opponent, Wednesday's ECAC West Tournament opener will be video streamed live on GoValiants.TV beginning at 7:15 p.m.