This season was already looking like a challenging one for the Sacred Heart Pioneers. After posting consecutive 21-win seasons in 2005-06 and 2006-07, Sacred Heart’s win totals dropped to 16 the following year and then just 11 last season. After claiming the top seed in the 2007 playoffs, the Pioneers are picked to finish eighth in the the 2009-10 preseason poll.
The sudden departure of longtime coach Shaun Hannah (13 seasons, 180-181-34) in September presents perhaps the biggest challenge of all.
“Guys were in shock,” assistant coach Dan Muse said. “It was unexpected, but credit the players. They have been focused on preparation and things they can control. They have complete faith in our administration that they’ll select a candidate that will continue to make this a great hockey program.”
Interviews for a new coach are under way, and until then Muse and co-assistant Lou Santani are holding down the fort. Their main concerns are revamping an offense that has lost all-star players each of the past three seasons, including Bear Trapp (156 career points) last year. During that timespan, the Pioneer offense went from first to sixth in the league.
“It’s an opportunity for some guys to step into the spotlight,” Muse said. “Guys like [Erik] Boisvert and [Dave] Jarman and Matt Gingera are great players and we have some others ready to have breakout seasons. It’s not going to come from just one person. We’ll have lots of guys contributing in many ways.”
The Pioneers snagged one of the top recruits in the league in Eric Delong, who had 93 points last season for Portage (Manitoba) and was named the Canadian Junior Tier II Player of the Year. In a preseason scrimmage game against St. Thomas (Quebec), Delong had two of the Pioneers’ three goals.
“He’s the full package,” Muse said. “A great student who has excellent hands and a great shot. We have eight players coming in that are going to contribute right away.”
Junior Olivier St. Onge takes over the starting duties in net from the departed Stefan Drew, which is according to plan, Muse said.
“He’s been groomed to be the starter the same way Stefan was,” he said. “He’s completed the development portion of his career and he’s ready. Olivier was plugged into certain games and certain situations for a reason. He knows the shooters in this league and is absolutely capable of getting us to where we want to be.”
The Pioneers want to be more consistent than last season, which saw them play well at times, but not enough to finish in the top half of the standings, a place they’re accustomed to being.
“Things didn’t go the way we wanted to,” Muse said. “We had some bright points, some big wins over RIT, a tie at Colorado College. But we need to play like that on a consistent basis.”