Sacred Coronary heart hoping new area might help ‘broaden the panorama of hockey within the state with some substance and significance’

An architectural rendering of Sacred Coronary heart College’s hockey rink at West Campus (renderings courtesy of JLG Architects and SLAM Collaborative).

This previous weekend fulfilled the promise positioned when school hockey began its 2020-21 season at Thanksgiving.

Groups threw laundry on the ice and hoisted trophies in celebrations two years within the making. They fulfilled goals by reaching the top factors hatched when the game pushed its season off the beginning grid to navigate a bumpy street by way of a worldwide pandemic.

These closing days helped emphasize each league, which to Atlantic Hockey meant a well-publicized collision with its trademark parity. Western underdogs superior to face jap megaliths within the first cross-geographic assembly between the 2 pods, and the latest powers rose by way of a league outlined by packages as soon as left behind within the more moderen school hockey’s arms race.

The pomp of the video games on the MassMutual Heart weren’t, nevertheless, the most important celebration within the convention final week.

Two hours south of the championship weekend hosted by American Worldwide, Sacred Coronary heart College was placing its first shovels into the bottom for its greatest achievement as a Division I hockey program. It planted a flag, completely, within the school hockey panorama and broke floor on the brand new hockey palace on the Martire Household Area.

“The dream is to compete frequently at a nationwide stage,” stated Jim Barquinero, senior VP of enrollment, pupil affairs and athletics for the college. “You can also make the match and in hockey, acquire that first-round sport. We wish to get in on that factor. We received the Connecticut Ice final yr and beat UConn, which is a Hockey East college. Then we beat Quinnipiac, which is a superb, glorious program. I believe all of us checked out one another and noticed we had been within the thick of planning for the sector. It was quiet, however we had been doing that, and we seemed and noticed that we might do it taking part in in a comparatively empty area. Think about what we’ll be capable of do (in a brand new constructing).”

The emotional second resonated with anybody who recalled Sacred Coronary heart’s earliest days. Investing considerably in hockey instantly moved the Pioneers into school hockey’s higher echelon and established a brand new custom amongst blue bloods in a area outlined by a neighboring state. The cash, the celebration and the ceremony all had been a part of an enormous thunderclap, however the brand new masthead meant extra to a better metropolitan space now on the forefront of the game’s trailblazing future.

A college, a state, a narrative

It doesn’t take very lengthy to search out Sacred Coronary heart College.

Positioned simply off the Merritt Parkway, it primarily straddles the road dividing the city of Fairfield and the town of Bridgeport in western Connecticut. Each the primary campus and its West Campus counterpart border the freeway, which runs horizontally throughout the state. It’s a quaint location positioned simply in between the journey from Hartford to New York Metropolis.

The state’s hockey tradition was as soon as outlined by the halcyon Hartford Whalers and their signature Brass Bonanza, however a registered membership with USA Hockey bubbles underneath the floor. The Whalers are lengthy gone to Carolina, however the variety of hockey gamers within the space nonetheless rival the NHL markets of the states of New Jersey and Ohio in addition to the individualized jap and western divisions of Pennsylvania, and it ranks second to solely Massachusetts amongst New England states.

Six Connecticut hockey gamers at the moment are within the NHL, 5 of which performed school hockey. Every of that handful has greater than 600 video games performed on the highest stage, with one – Jonathan Fast – incomes two Stanley Cup rings and a Conn Smythe Trophy as postseason MVP.

But everybody seemingly left the state in some unspecified time in the future.

Fast, a Milford resident, backstopped UMass to its first-ever NCAA match look earlier than profitable these championships with the Kings. Cam Atkinson grew up in Greenwich however received a nationwide championship for Boston Faculty in 2010. Hartford native Nick Bonino did the identical in 2009 with Boston College with Kevin Shattenkirk, who likewise performed in Greenwich on the Brunswick Faculty.

Their success represents Connecticut’s success, however they paper over the extra harsh actuality from an older time when there was just one “huge time” school hockey program. That was Yale, which might date its legacy again to hockey’s earliest period as the one Division I program previous to the late twentieth century. The opposite school groups all competed within the cross-divisions of Division II and III, and none actually loved a real dwelling.

“You had quite a lot of Division III colleges,” present Sacred Coronary heart coach CJ Marottolo stated. “You had Connecticut Faculty and Trinity from again within the day, and so they’re nonetheless taking part in hockey. You then had different colleges like Sacred Coronary heart, UConn, and Quinnipiac, which emerged when the MAAC got here into being.”

Sacred Coronary heart College hosted a groundbreaking ceremony for the ice rink at West Campus on March 15, 2021. The ability might be referred to as the Martire Household Area, named for donors and buddies of the College, Frank Martire (class of 1969) and his spouse Marisa had been current for the occasion (picture: Tracy Deer-Mirek).

The MAAC was the Metro Atlantic Athletic Convention and the constitution league for faculty hockey packages that needed to play Division I however lacked the sources, amenities and custom of Hockey East and ECAC. It constructed a league round its conventional footprint in New York State and Connecticut with Canisius, Fairfield and Iona forming a league with different orphaned packages like American Worldwide, Holy Cross and Sacred Coronary heart.

It helped the Pioneers get into Division I in a single sport because it seemed to realign its complete athletics division. The small, Division II college tried to hitch the Northeast-8 Convention however was rebuffed for a possible transfer. It led the college to pencil in a possible transfer to Division I, which turned actuality when it reclassified within the late-Nineties to the ironically-named Northeast Convention. The NEC didn’t sponsor hockey, so the MAAC was a logical touchdown spot for SHU. It chartered the convention with these different establishments and remained a bit as Mercyhurst and Bentley joined shortly thereafter.

“Once I acquired right here in September of 1989, the then-athletic director and still-legendary basketball coach Dave Bike had simply received the nationwide championship in 1986,” stated Barquinero. “We had gotten to the minimal of eight that had been actually functioning for sports activities, and I added 27 sports activities within the Nineties. I had a brother that performed (soccer) at Amherst, and I knew lots of people in each the NESCAC and within the Ivy League. The most effective educational colleges, notably within the northeast, additionally had probably the most groups athletically. In order that’s how I checked out it.”

“Connecticut has all the time been a state with nice gamers,” Marottolo added. “The USA Hockey summer time camps in New England had been all the time very effectively represented in these 14-year previous and 15-year previous age teams and the 16-year previous and 17-year previous age teams. They had been all the time superb gamers right here, and that goes again to the start of my Yale days. I’m very, very joyful to see the Connecticut children thrive, and now there are extra locations in Connecticut for them to select from.”

As a result of the MAAC colleges lacked the general package deal of Hockey East and ECAC, the colleges dedicated to constructing larger profiles represented potential fillers when school hockey started realigning. When Vermont left ECAC for Hockey East within the mid-2000s, Sacred Coronary heart utilized for the now-vacant spot within the extra conventional league, however it did so towards Quinnipiac. The Hamden-based college was on the verge of opening the now-named Individuals’s United Heart and unquestionably possessed a stronger package deal, and it subsequently moved into ECAC as Princeton’s new journey associate.

It saved the Pioneers within the MAAC because it underwent its personal overhaul. Fairfield and Iona dropped hockey in 2003 previous to Quinnipiac’s departure, and Canisius’ standing because the lone MAAC-sports member compelled a reorganization into Atlantic Hockey. Sacred Coronary heart soldiered ahead with the state’s flagship college at UConn, however it was left as the one Connecticut-based entry when the Huskies left for Hockey East after the 2011-2012 season.

A part of the difficulty was the Pioneers’ facility. They’d performed on the Milford Ice Pavilion since their first season in 1993, however it was a municipal ice rink on par with AIC’s Olympia Ice Heart and Bentley’s John A. Ryan Area. All had been useful and served an sufficient function for hockey video games, however they supplied a significant barrier to attendance, marquee dwelling video games and recruiting. When Quinnipiac left, it had the aforementioned constructing, and UConn outsourced its video games to the XL Heart in Hartford whereas renovating its on-campus Mark E. Freitas Ice Discussion board. The Pioneers, like the remainder of their jap AHA brethren, couldn’t compete at that stage.

“Within the early 90s, I used to be including a bunch of sports activities after I acquired the job right here (at Sacred Coronary heart),” Barquinero stated. “Soccer was one in all them, as was a bunch of others, however hockey was proper on the prime of the checklist. I knew school hockey in New England having gone to St. Anselm’s, and I adopted the game (within the area). So I type of felt like I knew what I used to be stepping into, despite the fact that the power challenge was actual.”

Out of the shadow

By way of the whole lot, Sacred Coronary heart by no means actually had an issue profitable video games on the ice. A win over Cornell in 2000 defeated a crew certain for its convention championship sport that yr, and three years later, the Pioneers break up with Miami College. The 2004 crew superior to a convention championship, and each the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 seasons produced 20-win years. In 2008 and 2009, Sacred Coronary heart beat Connecticut within the postseason.

The outcomes had been a part of a development undertaking headed by head coach Shaun Hannah. He turned the top coach in 1996 and moved Sacred Coronary heart’s crew as much as the Division I stage, and his groups regularly factored into the extra constant MAAC and Atlantic Hockey discussions. He received 191 video games and completed no decrease than fifth yearly with two notable exceptions – his first and final seasons.

Hannah constructed a winner, however his resignation for private causes one month earlier than the beginning of the 2009-2010 season drew headlines previous to the beginning of the season. It left a void on the prime of this system, one which was crammed two weeks earlier than the season by Yale assistant coach CJ Marottolo.

Marottolo had been in New Haven underneath Tim Taylor and Keith Allain since 1996, and his father, Carl, was a New Haven legend who based the Yale Youth Hockey program. His household was a deep a part of the state’s hockey tradition, despite the fact that he, like so many others, left the state to play school hockey at Northeastern. Considerably notably, he really was a part of the final crew to win the Beanpot previous to the Huskies’ victory in 2018.

His first yr was nothing wanting a hair-on-fire magic. Sacred Coronary heart stumbled to a 3-9-2 begin however rattled off 10 unbeaten video games after defeating Dartmouth simply earlier than Christmas. It completed the yr with 18 wins within the common season and superior to Atlantic Hockey’s championship sport earlier than falling simply wanting its first-ever journey to the nationwide match.

“We had been beginning to get to know one another,” Marottolo. “We had been attending to know them as gamers and as folks. There was a sport towards Military the place we performed effectively however didn’t win. We got here again in that sport however shot ourselves within the foot, however my employees and I watched the third interval on the rink within the locker room. No person talked, and we simply watched it. From that time on, we knew we could possibly be fairly good if we performed with self-discipline. After that, we went on that run, and it rolled off into the playoffs.”

That season blew the duvet off the potential for a profitable Division I program. The Pioneers watched RIT have a good time a convention championship and witnessed historical past when the Tigers superior to the Frozen 4 per week later. For a crew that went 12-2-2 at dwelling in the course of the season, it was a name to arms for the unbridled potential of what might occur with the proper infrastructure.

CJ Marottolo accomplished his twelfth season behind the Sacred Coronary heart bench in 2020-21.

Marottolo understood that higher than anybody, and after a transition interval over the subsequent few years, he constructed Sacred Coronary heart again into an Atlantic Hockey powerhouse. It adopted the same system to this system’s first years in Division I: a win over preseason No. 1 UMass-Lowell shocked the beginning of the 2013-2014 season, and Sacred Coronary heart beat Connecticut within the UConn Hockey Traditional over the vacations that yr. The following yr, the Pioneers beat the Huskies on the street with a 7-4 win.

Sacred Coronary heart pushed into eighth place in 2015 and performed back-to-back postseason wars towards Bentley in 2016 and 2017. It battle-hardened the crew earlier than a fourth place end in 2019, and the 2020 crew completed second earlier than the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled the postseason.

“I believe all people needs to go away this system in a greater place than once they acquired there,” Marottolo stated. “That was our mindset, and that’s what drove our group day by day. There are ups and downs, and excessive factors and preventing by way of adversity, and that’s their cost. They wish to look again and say that their 4 years are in a greater spot.”

The success coincided with unprecedented progress inside Atlantic Hockey. AIC received the convention championship with a wire-to-wire efficiency in 2019, and the Pioneers’ second place end was behind solely the Yellow Jackets. Bentley, which battled SHU in these consecutive playoffs, opened a brand new constructing in 2018 because the funding from all three colleges paid off in a giant method.

That made it considerably unsurprising when every year’s incoming class seemingly rewrote this system file books. A single season aim file initially set by Garrett Larson in 2003-2004 was matched by Pierre-Luc O’Brien two years later and Alexandre Dad or mum two years after that. Two years after Dad or mum, although, Nick Johnson shattered the file with 27 objectives, and each Matt Gingera and Justin Danforth joined the 20-goal membership over the subsequent 5 years.

The gamers all took on reputations of their very own. Alexis Jutras-Binet set a program win for wins and objectives towards common in 1999-2000 however was adopted by Eddy Ferhi, Jason Smith, Stefan Drew and Brett Magnus. Mike Lee transferred in from Vermont and performed with Austin McIlmurray and Jason Cotton, all of whom adopted Evan Jasper, Mitch Nylen and Zach Luczyk, who performed with Drew George, Chad Filteau, Eric Delong and Ben Ketchum.

“(This constructing) would by no means have occurred with out them,” Marottolo stated. “They’ve been the passionate folks behind the scenes pushing each single yr. They arrive again and know we would have liked a rink or deserved a rink. The varsity by no means thought we didn’t, however it takes time. There’s a handful of passionate alumni that weren’t going to cease till it occurred. With out their drive and imaginative and prescient and their neverending perception, it wouldn’t have occurred. This rink is for all. It’s not only for the blokes taking part in on opening night time. It’s for everybody who wore the jersey and stood on the bench earlier than I did. It’s the end result of the whole lot they did.”

A dream and a imaginative and prescient

These on-ice and off-ice elements intertwined all through this system’s historical past, and the gamers from Sacred Coronary heart’s older days constructed a basis for the later student-athletes. The present tradition opened doorways for the incoming gamers, and the way in which the file books broke over 20 years is a respiratory testomony to the upward parabola.

Preliminary scholarships helped flip Sacred Coronary heart right into a Division I program, and surviving the Fairfield and Iona attrition helped reorganize the Pioneers into Atlantic Hockey. Each Quinnipiac and UConn left for greener pastures, however being affected person enabled the Pioneers to put in rudimentary enhancements to construct a sustainable program.

It steadily cultivated a program that outgrew the Milford Ice Pavilion and spurred a full-time transfer to Bridgeport’s Webster Financial institution Area in 2016. The AHL area supplied higher hockey coaching and restoration for the crew, however it laid the groundwork to recruit extra marquee dwelling video games towards Union, Yale, UConn, Northeastern and Windfall.

In 2020, it served as the house for the inaugural Connecticut Ice match, which was one thing of a state-wide response to Boston’s beanpot. Televised through SNY out of New York Metropolis, it produced a trophy-winning second for the Pioneers after dominant wins over Yale and Quinnipiac.

The on-campus area will change that sport completely when it opens in 2023. The $70 million facility obtained a $5 million present from Frank Martire, a 1969 graduate of the college and each the chairman of SHU’s board of trustees and an fairness investor from the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights. His household will adorn the sector, which is able to span over 122,000-square ft.

It should be a part of the Bentley Area as the latest on-campus amenities in Atlantic Hockey over a five-year span and can embody an NHL-sized rink with hockey-specific energy and conditioning. A sophisticated hydrotherapy suite and rapid-shot puck room will pair with assembly and lounge areas, and the fan expertise areas are slated for luxurious suites, membership rooms, direct entry parking along with a professional store, center-hung scoreboard and graphics ribbons.

Each the boys’s and girls’s groups are already scheduled to face marquee opponents of their inaugural video games. For the boys, a house sport towards Jerry York and Boston Faculty will launch the period, whereas the ladies are set to host Harvard of their first sport in an expertise gentle years from the municipal constructing positioned 15 miles off-campus.

“Our area on campus goes to have all of the bells and whistles one might ever take into consideration,” Barquinero stated. “So I believe that imaginative and prescient in the intervening time is our pleasure and our enthusiasm for a constant championship stage program. We watched with nice admiration for Coach (Eric) Lang at AIC, and I knew Gary (Wright) when he was at AIC, and I watched our league. With Air Power and Military and all people having so many good colleges, we’ve all collectively confirmed that we could be a (sturdy) league. Our facility goes to generate a allure and a spirit of nice delight on campus.”

The sector is without doubt one of the final items of a hockey manifest future for each Atlantic Hockey, New England and the state of Connecticut. When Yale beat Quinnipiac within the 2013 Frozen 4, Sacred Coronary heart was transitioning by way of a two-win season. A decade later, the gamers who gave the whole lot however didn’t all the time benefit from the fruits of outcomes can have a hockey palace arguably higher than their in-state compatriots.

“New York and Lengthy Island are producing nice hockey gamers as effectively,” Marottolo stated. “And us constructing this facility, the hope is that extra children are going to be choosing up the cellphone for the calls that we make and no less than will take heed to our story. That’s what we’re enthusiastic about.”

“Now we have a geographic location that’s particular for each one of many colleges in Hockey East, ECAC and Atlantic Hockey,” Barquinero added. “A few of their most profitable graduates live right here in Fairfield County. A few of the most interesting excessive colleges in America are proper right here. Admissions officers wish to recruit right here, and development places of work and alumni places of work wish to do issues right here. We’re right here.

“If we are able to deliver one thing to the desk to advertise Connecticut hockey in decrease Fairfield County, we are able to broaden the panorama of hockey within the state with some substance and significance.”

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