Playing With Heart
Don’t look now, but the hottest team in college hockey is the Sacred Heart Pioneers, who are riding a seven-game unbeaten streak. After a 3-9-2 start to the season and some time in the basement of the Atlantic Hockey standings, Sacred Heart has turned it around by improving on all fronts: offense, defense and special teams.
“It’s been a combination of things,” said Pioneers coach C.J. Marottolo, in his first year at Sacred Heart. “Home ice, solid goaltending and senior leadership. It sounds cliche, but I attribute it to not making too much of things; not getting too high or low, just doing the things it takes to win games.”
Marottolo says the turning point was the Pioneers’ last loss, to Army on Dec. 5. It was the team’s seventh straight game without a win.
“We drove back from West Point and had a long talk as a team,” he said. “We watched the video and learned a lot.”
Sacred Heart won at Dartmouth the next weekend and then came back to an eight-game home stand after the holidays. The Pioneers are 5-0-1 so far and wrap it up with a pair against Canisius this weekend.
“Canisius is a dynamic, offensive team,” said Marottolo. “We’re going to have to be at our best.”
The Pioneers have offensive prowess as well. Sacred Heart is third in the AHA in goals per game (3.33), including averaging four and a half goals a game over their last six league contests. The Pioneers power play is tops in the league at 23.3 percent, including 4-10 last weekend in a sweep of Mercyhurst.
“Power plays are streaky,” said Marottolo. “Sometimes you do everything but don’t score and other times you can’t do anything right and still get a goal. We have the approach where we’re always working hard and moving the puck.”
Rookie goaltender Steven Legatto has allowed just 11 goals over his last seven games, and made 56 saves on 61 shots last weekend.
“He’s been solid,” said Marottolo. “He’s been making adjustments as he’s moving on through the season.”
The coach can’t say enough about his seniors, who provided a smooth transition when Marottolo came in just as the season began after the sudden departure of Shaun Hannah.
“I can’t speak highly enough of them for the great job they did pulling this team together,” he said. “There was a process we all had to go through with a new coach. They did a great job of harnessing things to get us where we are now. I won’t name names because they have all been great, scoring goals, big goals, blocking shots, doing whatever needs to get done.”
Seniors Nick Johnson and Dave Jarman are tied for the team lead with 27 points each. Freshman Eric Delong’s 16 points are tops among AHA rookies.
“We’re very pleased [with Delong],” said Marottolo. “He started the season a little banged up but is better [now]. He’s got a great attitude. He’s so eager. He’s always working on the details of his game.”
Over the past three weekends, the Pioneers have gone from last to fifth place in the conference, and trail Canisius by four points for the final home-ice spot. The teams face off this weekend.
“The important thing for us is to not let up,” said Marottolo. “We realize that we haven’t done anything yet. There’s a long way to go.”
Teams at the bottom of the standings picked up some well-needed points last weekend. American International took three points from Holy Cross and Connecticut earned a home split with RIT. The wins were the third of the season for both the Yellow Jackets and the Huskies.
AIC goalie Dan Ramirez stopped 38 of 39 shots in a 1-1 tie with Holy Cross on Friday, and teammate Ben Meisner stopped all 39 shots he faced in a 1-0 win on Saturday. All three of AIC’s wins this season have been by shutout, and Meisner has them all, already setting the school record for shutouts in a season.
At UConn, the Huskies came back from a 4-0 loss on Friday to defeat RIT 2-1, snapping the Tigers’ 13-game unbeaten streak. Rookie goaltender Garett Bartus made 30 saves for his first victory.
Co-Players of the Week for Jan. 18, 2010:
Cory Conacher — Canisius
The junior forward continued his scoring streak, tallying five more points last weekend. He had an assist and pair of goals, including the game winner, in a 5-2 win over Army on Friday, and two assists in a 4-4 tie on Saturday. Conacher is riding a 12-game scoring streak.
Patrick Knowlton — Sacred Heart
Knowlton also had five points last weekend, helping the Pioneers to a sweep over Mercyhurst. The junior had a goal and two assists in Friday’s 6-3 win and two assists in Saturday’s 3-2 victory.
Goalie of the Week for Jan. 18, 2010:
Andrew Volkening — Air Force
Volkening wins the award for the fourth time this season, this time allowing just three goals in a sweep of Bentley. The senior has a 1.94 GAA in league games this season.
Rookie of the Week for Jan. 18, 2010:
Ben Meisner — American International
Meisner stopped all 39 shots on Saturday for a 1-0 win over Holy Cross. He has three shutouts on the season, already a school record.
Good News, Bad News
Friday’s 4-0 victory over UConn was the 200th career win for RIT coach Wayne Wilson. But on Saturday the Tigers lost 2-1 to the Huskies, ending their 13-game league unbeaten streak and dropping them out of a first-place tie with Air Force.
A Lot of Firsts
Speaking of Air Force, the Falcons picked up their first road sweep of the season, taking two games at Bentley. It was also the first time the Falcons from Colorado had swept the Falcons from Massachusetts since joining Atlantic Hockey. The wins put Air Force into sole possession of first place.
Army’s Owen Meyer scored two power play goals in the third period on Saturday to help the Black Knights to a 4-4 tie with Canisius. Meyer now has 58 goals in AHA play in his career, moving into seventh place all time. Sacred Heart’s Pierre-Luc O’Brien holds the record with 67.
USCHO covers Atlantic Hockey all week long on the Atlantic Hockey Blog, with weekend recaps on Monday, picks on Friday, and updates during the week.