The last two seasons have been a roller coaster ride for coach C.J. Marottolo and his Sacred Heart Pioneers. Picked to finish eighth out of 10 teams in 2009-10, the Pioneers came in second, earning Marottolo coach of the year honors. But last season Sacred Heart plummeted to 11th place.
“I hope the opposite ends of the spectrum continues for one more year,” joked Marottolo. “That means we’ll be in pretty good shape.”
The Pioneers’ downfall last season was their 4.68 goals allowed per game, worst in Division I.
“We never had it figured out last year,” said Marottolo. “Our goaltending was nowhere we wanted it to be and we were down to five defensemen at one point due to injuries. But I thought we turned the corner a little at the end of the season (beating Bentley in the first round of the playoffs before falling to Air Force). Things are exceptionally close in this league.”
Sacred Heart lost three of its stop six scorers to graduation but returns its top two in senior Matt Gingera and junior Eric DeLong. Both had 30 points last season. Gingera’s 21 goals was 10 more than any player on the team last season.
“Obviously, ‘Ginge’ carried us the second half of last year,” said Marottolo. “But we don’t expect him to be any more than he is already. We expect other guys to step up and chip in.”
The defense will be helped by the addition of two transfers. Will Rayner comes in from Massachusetts-Lowell and Jordan Ciccarello was formerly at Clarkson.
“They’re both extremely competitive people,” said Marottolo. “Our hope is that makes us better in several areas.”
Junior Steven Legatto returns as the only goaltender who has seen action at the college level. He’s joined by sophomore Chris Paliafito and newcomer Andrew Bodnarchuk.
“I told all three that it’s an open tryout,” said Marottolo. “All three of them know where they stand. We’re moving forward with the one that’s playing the best.
“We have nine new players and they’ve added to the dynamic of our team. The work ethic has been exceptional, on the track, in the weight room and on the ice. I’ve told our players, ‘The only thing we can control is how hard we work.’”
About the Pioneers
2010-11 overall record: 6-25-2
2010-11 AHA record: 5-16-6 (11th)
2011-12 predicted finish (coaches poll): 11th
Key losses: Patrick Knowlton (F), David Berube (F), Oliver St. Onge (G)
Players to watch: Matt Gingera (sr., F), Eric DeLong (jr., F), Steven Legatto (jr., G)
Impact rookie: Brian Sheehan had 67 points in 44 games in the EJHL last season
Why the Pioneers will finish higher than the coaches poll: They can win the close games they lost last season if they can improve on defense.
Why the Pioneers will finish lower than the coaches poll: Legatto or whomever is in net has to have a better season or it will be more of the same for the Pioneers.