UC women’s hockey season opener Saturday, team looks forward to a more “normal” season


Jeff Pexton

The Utica College Women’s Ice Hockey team celebrates a goal being scored.

Erica Sloan, Contributing Writer

As winter sports start to come to life again at Utica College, the women’s ice hockey team is ready for a fresh start after a long 18 months of not playing in a normal season.

Last year, games could be canceled at any time due to someone testing positive for COVID-19, or a school’s policies prohibited the game from taking place. The team adjusted and made the best of their 2020-2021 shortened season by focusing on team building. Last year, it was about experience and seizing the opportunity to play hockey during the pandemic.

Junior forward Carolyn Whitney said she is most excited about loosened restrictions this year. The toughest part for her last year was that the team was not always guaranteed to play a game and could find out the day of a game that they couldn’t play.

“Having games canceled last year put our team in a bad place because we were ready to go and play, but we had to suffer the consequences for other teams contracting the virus,” Whitney said. “It was tough, but collectively as a team, we did our best to stay positive throughout last season.”

Cortney Staniszewski, a sophomore forward for the Pioneers who started school at Utica College during the pandemic, said she is excited to finally get the full student-athlete experience and not have to be restricted due to protocols. 

“I was unable to bond with my teammates and truly get to know them on a more personal level much outside of hockey last year, which made it a very difficult year for me and my fellow classmates,” Staniszewski said. “Never experiencing a college sport (and then) coming in during COVID-19 was a very difficult adjustment.”

This year will post big challenges for the team, women’s ice hockey head coach Dave Clausen said. Last season changed the perspective on what they do as a team. Before the pandemic, they had a massive focus on winning and losing, where last year’s focus was placed on the experience being more significant.

“In the world we live in now, the girls should be able to enjoy and lose anxiety about whether they will play tomorrow or not,” Clausen said. “The girls just wanted the opportunity to play and have a good time last year, but games went from being played on time to we would maybe have a game.”

Clausen said looking back on last year to this year, the little things that were important before the pandemic aren’t as important now. He looks forward to a more traditional season and the players feeling less pressured.

“Last year, we felt as a coaching staff that we had to bring the girls to the rink on days we could have given them the day off,” Clausen said. “It was a safe place where the girls could relax and bringing them to the rink helped with their mental health.”

The team brought in four new players this year, possibly bringing more chemistry on the ice, Clausen said. 

“We have the potential to be really good this year with a lot of talented players,” Clausen said. “We have some good challenging teams that we’ll have to play, both in and outside of our conference.”

The UCHC came out with their pre-season poll on Oct. 21, revealing that Utica College was picked to finish second in their conference this year. Clausen said this news brings optimism for the team this year.

Clausen also added that he is excited to see what is in store for the team after they beat SUNY Cortland last Thursday night in their first exhibition game 5-2. According to the coach, the team has a young defense, but a lot of offensive depth which is a strength, after five different players scored in their win over Cortland. Their team goal this year is to win the United Collegiate Hockey Conference.

Utica College will face Elmira College at 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 30 at the Adirondack Bank Center in their home opener.