By MICHAEL KELLY
SCHENECTADY — Looking out toward his team’s new home ice at Union College’s Frank L. Messa Rink, Niskayuna/Schenectady Mohawks hockey head coach Sean O’Connell stated Saturday a wish for his club’s future.
“This is championship ice, so if we can get a little bit of that puck luck to rub off on us, we’ll take that,” he said after his club’s 5-2 loss to Section I’s Pearl River.
This past Friday and Saturday saw the Mohawks play their first home games of the season at the venue which also plays host to the Union College men’s ice hockey team, the reigning national champions. The 2014-15 season represents the first in which the Mohawks will play their home games at the college, a change from years past in which the squad primarily played at the Schenectady County Recreational Facility in Scotia. Saturday’s loss to Pearl River followed a 3-2 loss Friday to Glens Falls-Hudson Falls-South Glens Falls.
Besides playing their home games at Union College, the Mohawks also practice at Messa Rink. Still, defenseman Mike Fiore, a senior at Niskayuna High School, said it has been an adjustment for the squad’s players to move to the new ice after so many of them grew up playing at the Schenectady County Recreational Facility.
“It’s completely different from what we’re used to; it’s a good change, but it is a big transition for everybody,” said Fiore. “Just being in a bigger arena, it’s a lot different from what we’re used to.”
Noting the extra seating at the venue and lofty banners hanging above the ice, Mohawks forward Evan Maloney said the squad needed to use its first two home games to get acclimated to its new home.
“Everything is a little overwhelming to start off with for this year,” said Maloney, a Niskayuna High School junior. “But if we work into it, we’ll start pulling out some wins.”
O’Connell said the Mohawks program had jumped at the chance to move its home games to Union College when offered the opportunity. The rink is closer to both high schools that feed the program, and he said the switch to the new facility has not affected the Mohawks’ practice or game schedule.
“Union [has been] extremely accommodating,” he said.
The best parts of playing at the new venue, Fiore said, has been the chances for the Mohawks players to sometime skate with members of the national champions or watch some of the Dutchmen’s practices
“It’s really awesome and cool that we’ve been able to experience that,” Fiore said.
Saturday’s loss dropped the Mohawks to 2-5 on the season. Maloney said the Mohawks are staying positive despite their losing record, saying that the squad is still figuring itself out before its season accelerates with a January in which the squad is scheduled to play eight times.
“If we start clicking in practice, it will start showing in games,” he said.
O’Connell said his club’s slow start to the season has not worried him. The combination of playing some tough opponents and five road games to start the campaign was always going to be tough, he said, but some nagging injuries have also kept the Mohawks from having their full complement of players during their first seven games.
“Our biggest challenge [has been] trying to string together some good games while we’re waiting for some folks to get healthy,” O’Connell said.
The squad returns to action this Friday, at Union College, as part of the program’s holiday tournament.