UTICA, N.Y. – Sophomore Paul Sirignano (St. Catharines, Ont./Thorold Blackhawks (OJHL)) scored the game-winning goal 8:24 into the first overtime period to send the fourth-seeded Manhattanville men's hockey team past top-seeded and #2 Utica, 2-1 (OT), in the semifinal round of the ECAC West Conference Tournament on Saturday night at a sold-out Utica Memorial Auditorium.
Manhattanville (15-9-3) improves to 2-0 all-time in the postseason at the Aud and more importantly advances to next weekend's ECAC West Championship game, where they will face off with third-seeded Neumann, which upended second-seeded Hobart by a 2-0 score in the other semifinal. Utica (20-5-1) will wait and see where they will end up for the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
The Valiants earned that berth in the finals with one of its few chances of the overtime period, but the visitors made the chance count. Sophomore Mark Rivera (Belmar, N.J./Springfield Pics (EJHL)) came down the near side and fired a shot off the pads of Utica netminder Nick Therrien, but Sirignano swooped in from the far side to one-time the rebound into the open net for the game-winning score and set off a huge celebration both on the ice and in the stands from the small but vocal Valiant faithful on hand.
But the hero of the night before Sirignano's tally was certainly sophomore netminder Alex Scola (Exeter, N.H./Woodstock Slammers (MJHL)), who fended off numerous Utica attacks at the other end of the ice to set the stage for Sirignano's heroics. The Pioneers finished the night with a 41-22 edge in shots, but the sophomore only allowed one goal past him to keep his team in the game.
Scola made seven saves in overtime alone, none bigger than his stoning of Evan Chlanda on a breakaway chance early in the OT period. He also helped the Valiants fend off two minutes of man-down time in the extra session just a few minutes before the game-winning goal.
Thanks in part to Scola, the Valiant penalty kill was exceptional on the evening, allowing the country's fourth-highest scoring offense only four shots on five man-down situations, including two crucial kills in the third period and one more in overtime. The Valiant power play even got involved, scoring once on four chances.
Neither team could find the net in the first period, despite Utica posting a 15-5 edge in shots. Scola was at the top of his game from the opening draw, denying the Pioneers on numerous good scoring opportunities to keep the game scoreless.
The second period featured plenty of chances for both teams, and both the Pioneers and Valiants capitalized once to send the game into the third tied at one.
Utica struck first at the 8:30 mark of the middle frame, coming just seconds after Manhattanville had killed off a man-down chance. Trever Hertz came down the far side and had his initial shot stopped by Scola, but Adam Graff was there to clean up the rebound and find the net for the score.
But Manhattanville responded just over three minutes later on the power play to knot the game. After some sustained possession in the offensive end, sophomore Anton Racklin (Gothenburg, Sweden/Fairbanks Ice Dogs (NAHL)) got a defender down in the high slot before passing to the near circle for freshman Paul Allan Bamberg (Lulea, Sweden/Lulea HF J20 (SWE)), who got Therrien to go down before roofing it over his shoulder for his third of the year at the 11:37 mark. SeniorJason Bowles (Elkhorn, Man./Waywayseecappo Wolverines (MJHL)) also assisted on the tally.
The Valiants had two more power-play chances in the second frame but could not convert, and as a result the teams went into the third period tied at two.
Neither team could find the net in the third period either and the teams went into extra time, setting the stage for the dramatic finish.