From University of Utah Hockey
By Anita Y. Tsuchiya
The best way to look at the 2021-22 season for the University of Utah Hockey Men’s Division (M2) team, is to be thankful it’s in the books. The Utes finished with a heartbreaking 4-13-0 (W-L-T) record and were ranked 40th out of 52 teams in the West Region of the ACHA.
Utah also suffered the ill fortune of a schedule hit hard by COVID-related issues. After being forced to reschedule or cancel multiple series, because of travel/covid restrictions in California and Washington State, Utah ended up playing just two games following the winter break. In total, they played 17 games, 12 of which were against in-state rivals.
The Utes had their best results in November, finishing with a 4-5-0 record. The month’s highlights included splitting a two-game home series against San Jose State University and doing it again the following weekend in San Jose, California.
There were other bright spots. Utah’s top forward line of Zeke Endy, Nick Madej, and Luke Ossola combined for a total of 24 goals and 35 assists in 16 games played. Endy led the team with 12 goals and 9 assists. He also led the highlights list with 1 power-play goal, 1 short-handed goal, and 3 game-winning goals. Madej was the Mr. Assist, with 5 goals and 15 assists. Ossola had 7 goals and 9 assists.
Patrick O’Donnell began the season as the starting netminder for the Division 2 team, but also served as backup for the shorthanded M1 team on occasion. He did play one period against #24-ranked Arizona State. O’Donnell missed a few mid-season games due to a lower-body injury, but returned to finish the season with M1/M2 record of 5 GP, 220 MIN, 0 W, 4L, 9.58 GAA, and a 0.813 SV%. Freshman Adam Rousselo rose to the occasion during O’Donnell’s absence and finished the season with 12 GP, 637 MIN, 4 W, 6 L, 6.50 GAA, and a very respectable 0.829 SV%.
For those who have followed the recent history of Utah Hockey, these final results might not be too surprising. After moving from Division 2 to Division 1, the team had to retool for the caliber of play seen at this new level. With the addition of the M2 team, Utah Hockey has returned to the PAC-8 Conference after a 6 year ‘hiatus’. Only four returning players earned spots on the M2 squad for this season, forwards Andrew Urhc (C), Kai Conti (A), Jack Michael, and Evgeni Tretyak. The rest of the youthful roster was filled by freshmen (21) and sophomores (10).
An all-new coaching staff got their start during the pandemic break as well. While the M1 and W1 coaches were hired from outside the organization, Head Coach Nick Fornelius and several of his assistant coaches played for the Utes. Fornelius was a first-line forward for Utah when the team changed status from D2 to D1. So, he understands that growing pains are a necessary part of the program’s development process. Mere weeks after the end of their first season, he and the rest of the coaches are already planning for next season.
Coach Fornelius expects significant changes to the team this off-season. Over 100 recruits showed up for open tryouts held on April 8th-9th. Fornelius is keen on this Darwinian showcase, where only the fittest will make the cut. He sees a lot of new talent that he can use to add much-needed depth at all positions.
“Even veteran team members are required to compete for their spot,” says Fornellius. “Which is the way it should be. The process of building a winning program begins right now.”
When asked about his plans moving forward, Fornelius replied, “We’ll continue on the same path going forward. Continue building our culture and maturing as a team. Next year we’ll have guys who have a season of experience under their belt. And we’ll have a group of new players who can learn what’s expected from those veterans, how to operate within our organization and our team. I expect a big leap forward next season, with our opening season behind us.”
(Originally published at https://universityofutahhockey.com/utah-m2-concludes-challenging-inaugural-season/)