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Miner hockey opens up home schedule

Nina Titovets
The Miner hockey club swept Grand Canyon University over the weekend, defeating them at home 7-3 and 4-2.

The UTEP hockey team opened their home schedule with two big wins over Grand Canyon University on Friday, Oct. 14, and Saturday, Oct. 15, at the El Paso County Coliseum Events Center.

They began the season with six road games, which included visits to TCU, North Texas and Texas A&M, the Miners’ club came into the weekend with only one loss to Texas A&M. With a strong record, they are near the top of the Southern Division of the Texas Collegiate Hockey Conference.

The 2016-17 season is the second season for the UTEP hockey team, but the first for the conference–which is a part of the prestigious American Collegiate Hockey Association.

The Antelopes arrived looking for their second win of the young season. However, the Miners played a determined brand of hockey in front of almost 1,000 fans each night. All weekend the Miner fans proved to be an asset at key times in the game for the young team and their enthusiasm did not go unnoticed by the young team or head coach Tom Herman.

“I thought it was a pretty solid crowd for mid-October and Friday night football. I was really happy with the turn out and the support for the team,” Herman said.

Comparing the crowd to what the team has seen on the road so far this season, Herman said, “we’ve beat their totals by two or three (times).”

Miner forward Matt Sanca, freshman biology major, was very excited to be home wearing the orange and blue.

“The crowd is electric; this is the best place to play. It can’t get any better than that,” Sanca said. “The fans are so responsive—it’s fricking electric out there.”

Game one saw both teams open up at high speed with fresh legs after some time off, as the referees let play flow. Both goaltenders made fantastic saves at both ends, with Miner goalie Aleksander Lazarski making timely save after timely save that would begin a long weekend of frustration and stick slamming for numerous Antelope forwards.

GCU opened the scoring on Friday, when forward Brenton Hill tipped in a rebound eight minutes in for one of three goals on the night for the boys in purple. It did not take long for the Miners to answer with a goal of their own, when forward Matt Sanca scored a power play goal with an assist to his brother—and fellow forward—Jon Sanca, also a freshman biology major.

Before the second period ended, Matt Sanca would reward the fans with a hat trick as his third goal trickled in following a poor decision to attempt to cover the puck some 10 feet outside of the crease by the panicked Antelopes’ net-minder. As the game began to get out of hand on the scoreboard, the Miners eventually won by a final score of 7-3. The game also got out of hand for the referees as the teams piled up the penalty minutes.

A total of 40 penalty minutes were logged in the game, mostly in a heated second period that ended with several roughing penalties followed by what amounted to a line brawl between both teams after the horn. Although bad blood could have spilled over into Saturday’s game, the referees managed to keep control without giving out many penalties.

Once again, on Saturday, goaltending and defense frustrated the Antelopes as the visitors were held to only two goals in a 4-2 loss. The back-and-forth game saw a lot of open play with little rest and the Miners were able to use their speed and superior game planning to send GCU home without a win. Several times in the period, a centering pass from behind the net found an open man in front of the net for a well-timed wrist shot and UTEP goal.

Last season, the story may have been very different in a game that required defensive speed rather than just back-and-forth scoring. That may be the biggest difference in this year’s team for the Miners. Several freshmen defensemen have joined the team and immediately made a difference at the blue line.

“(The freshmen) have been great for us. With (Dalton) Monaghan, (Kevin) Duncan, (Storm) Evans, (Mackenzie) Hollis and (Gabe) Goodroe, they’ve really solidified our defense. It’s been great having those guys. It’s just been really nice to have depth,” Herman said.

On Saturday, the young defensemen not only solidified the defense, they also added to the scoresheet in the case of freshman business major Evans.

“It was great to finally get one, it’s been a few games since I had one, and scoring in front of that many fans is unreal,” Evans said.

Evans’ wicked slap shot from the point on a Miners’ power play—UTEP’s third goal of the game—became the game winner when GCU added two late goals.

Herman was happy with his team’s performance over the weekend— going 2 for 2 against a very good opponent.

“It was a good weekend for us to open up at home. It was a good test,” Herman said. “I’m pretty happy with how it went.”

Friday night’s hero may have given fans even more reason to come out next weekend when he said – following Friday’s three goals – that the offense is just beginning to get going.

“We’re starting to get our skates under us now. We’re starting to feel it more,” Matt Sanca said.

The Miners welcome Northern Arizona University on Friday, Oct. 21, and Saturday, Oct. 22, as they continue their quest for the inaugural Texas Collegiate Hockey Conference championship.

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Miner hockey opens up home schedule