Pioneers Believe Home is Where the Heart Is
“Our leaders have stepped up — and our team, in turn, has stepped up.”
Simply put. Probably something that you hear around college hockey, or college sports in general, quite often.
But if you’re Sacred Heart head coach Shaun Hannah, being able to say that right now is a major accomplishment.
One month ago, almost to the day, Sacred Heart hit rock bottom. Struggling to put together wins, and in the middle of a four-game road trip, the Pioneers turned a close, hard-fought game against Canisius College into a bloodbath melee.
The result was 12 penalties totaling 90 minutes, including game disqualifications to six of the Pioneers’ top forwards and defensemen: Les Hrapchak, Lloyd Marks, Richard Naumann, Chris Mokos, Marty Paquet and Mike Reagan.
“[The Canisius/Mercyhurst] weekend didn’t go as planned,” said Hannah, almost laughing. “It was a tough weekend. We’d had some trouble with penalties for the most part of the year, and things came to a head that weekend.”
Coming to a head may have been the understatement. On the road in Buffalo, miles from their home in Bridgeport, Conn., the Pioneers had to venture on to Mercyhurst and face the league’s top team without those six players.
The result was ugly. Sacred Heart was shut out, 4-0, by the Lakers that day, while mustering just 18 shots on goal. That’s just a little more than one shot per player — as Sacred Heart dressed only 17 players that afternoon, counting three goaltenders.
A long bus ride home from Erie, Penn., gave Hannah and the players some time to think for themselves. That was followed by a lengthy team meeting to discuss the on-ice discipline problem.
“We discussed it, obviously, and we came together as a team with the commitment that we have to stay out of the box if we’re going to be successful,” said Hannah. “But when something like that happens in the Canisius game and you lose big guys for a big game against Mercyhurst the next night, I think things hit home.”
Hit home it did. Since returning from Mercyhurst, the Pioneers have averaged less than 11 minutes in penalties a game, and that includes a 10-minute misconduct to Nick Nutcher a week ago for a tussle against Holy Cross.
Over that five-game span, not only have penalty minutes decreased, but the Pioneers have consistently climbed up the MAAC ladder, thanks to a 3-0-2 record.
“We’ve made big strides since that weekend,” Hannah said. “We were out of playoff contention at that point, and our goal was to [not only be in the playoffs, but to] have home ice. So I think guys realized that if the playoffs started that weekend, we weren’t in them. It came to a head and we realized we had to step up.”
Sacred Heart is not only back in the playoff hunt, but also back in the race for home ice. They’ve quickly moved from tenth place to sixth and stand just two games behind fourth-place UConn for the final home-ice spot.
If the Pioneers wanted a little bit more bright light, of the five remaining games of their schedule, four of them are at home. That’s a benefit for any team, but for the Pioneers, that’s extra incentive. To date, Sacred Heart has complied the best home record in the league — 6-1-2. Compare that to a 4-8-2 mark on the road, and you can see why the Pionners are happy to be home.
“It’s one of those anomalies,” Hannah said. “I don’t know why we play well at home, but we do. We’re happy about it coming into the final stages of our schedule. It’s good we play at home given our situation, so that we can finish where we want to finish in the standings and maybe get home ice.”
But Hannah won’t look that far ahead.
“I think we’re just taking it one game at a time. The next game we play is the biggest game of the season. That’s how we’re looking at it. We’re not looking past our next game at Army.”
Now it would be nice for Hannah to believe that simple discipline or home ice are what has pulled his team together over the last five games. Obviously, they have helped, but Hannah was quick to point out, too, that rookie goaltender Eddy Ferhi, who has been in net for all five of those games, has been a key.
“Eddy Ferhi is playing real well in net for us,” Hannah said. “Things are really clicking for him and that’s good.”
Good for Ferhi, but maybe not so good for Alexi Jutras-Binet, the senior goaltender who, for three seasons, kept Sacred Heart afloat.
Hannah talked candidly about his goaltending situation.
“It’s not easy for [Alexi], but he’s a real team guy. He understands the team concept and that the team is doing well right now with Eddy in the net.
“Ideally, it’s great [to have two hot goaltenders], but we’ve felt that things are really clicking for us right now, and we haven’t felt the need to change to formula.
“But Alexi’s a great goaltender and we have all the confidence in the world in him. If we have two hot goaltenders into the playoffs it would be an ideal situation.”
One thing Hannah is enthused by is the playoff preparation his team will get by playing meaningful games gown the stretch.
“I think that’s where we framed our outlook on the last six games — taking it one game at a time,” said Hannah. Given our playoff format, you have to play that way. It’s one game, do or die. And in this run, it’s one game that could cost us home ice or one game that could cost us being in the playoffs or not.
As perilous as it sounds, the last five games have given Hannah and the Pioneers a little bit of added enthusiasm.
“I think it’s just exciting — the playoff race and the run for the playoffs. Our league, compared to the last two year, there’s more parity from top to bottom and it really creates a more exciting atmosphere. We’ve seen that any given night you can be beaten or you can win. It’s come to who’s going to be the better team on that day.
ITECH MAAC Player of the Week ADAM BOUCHARD, IONA Sr., F, Coventry, RI
Bouchard wins the award for his outstanding play in wins over Holy Cross and Bentley, recording 2-3-5. He assisted on the game-winning goal in the 6-4 win over Holy Cross and scored two goals, including the game-winner, and tallied two assists in the 6-3 victory over Bentley. He has already set career highs with 16 assists and 27 points this season.
ITECH MAAC Hockey League Goalie of the Week: STEPHEN FABIILLI, CANISIUS Sr., G, Sudbury, ON
Fabiilli was brilliant in the 5-1 win over American International, stopping 20 of 21 Yellow Jacket shots for a .952 save percentage in earning his seventh win of the season. Fabiilli has an overall record of 7-6-2 with a 3.30 goals against average and an .897 save percentage.
ITECH MAAC Hockey League Rookie of the Week: ANTHONY RUFRANO, AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL Fr., F, Niagara Falls, ON
Rufrano’s fine play helped the Yellow Jackets to a 5-4 upset of first-place Mercyhurst. He scored two goals, including the game-winner just 16 seconds into overtime, and added an assist in the victory. He now has 14 points in his rookie campaign.
MAAC Adds NESN to Live TV Lineup
The MAAC office announced this week that the New England Sports Network will bring the MAAC Championships to New England homes live, rather than tape delayed as they did last year. That adds to Empire Sports and MSG, who already telecast the championship game live.
This year’s championship will be held at UConn on March 15 and 17. The title game will begin at noon on March 17.
Around the League
The Yellow Jackets upset first place Mercyhurst, 5-4 in overtime, on Friday night but lost to Canisius, 5-1, on Saturday night. American International hosts Bentley at 7:00 Saturday night. Freshman Anthony Rufrano, the ITECH/MAAC Rookie of the Week, scored two goals, including the game-winner just 16 seconds into overtime, and added an assist in the victory over Mercyhurst. He now has 14 points in his rookie campaign. Freshman Guillaume Caron celebrated his 20th birthday Friday night with a goal and two assists, including one on the game-winner. for the Yellow Jackets. Caron now has 24 points this season. Freshman forward John Levesque recorded his first collegiate goal and point Friday when he scored off his own rebound 8:25 into the second period. Senior goaltender Chance Thede broke his own single-season record of 810 saves with his 35 stops Friday against the Lakers. With his 24 saves Sunday at Canisius, Thede now has 845 saves on the year.
The Black Knights defeated Canadian institution Royal Military College, 7-1, Saturday night in an exhibition game and continue to hold onto the eighth and final playoff spot. Army also rallied in the third period for a 4-3 win over Holy Cross on Tuesday night. They entertain Sacred Heart at 7:00 Friday night and Fairfield at 7:00 Saturday night. Junior Tim Fisher scored two goals while junior goalie Scott Hamilton stopped 21 of 22 shots for the victory. The Black Knights are 11-1-2 in the last 14 games against RMC and lead the overall series 36-28-6. The Black Knights also extended their home unbeaten streak to 24 games against Canadian teams. Junior Joe Carpenter had a goal and an assist in his first full game in nearly two months. Army and Holy Cross split the first two meetings, with the home team winning 3-2 each time. Army’s last three home games have all been sellouts. The average attendance over the last three games at Tate Rink is 2,865 .
The Falcons lost to Iona, 6-3, on Saturday night. Bentley visits Holy Cross at 7:00 Friday night and American International at 7:00 Saturday night. Bentley trails eighth place Army by eight points. Freshmen Mike Mulligan and Joe Lovell are enjoying fine rookie seasons. Lovell is Bentley’s top scoring rookie with 16 points while Mulligan has 15 points . Each player chalked up two points on Saturday against Iona, Lovell with a goal and an assist and Mulligan with two helpers. The loss to the Gaels snapped Bentley’s three-game home unbeaten streak. Junior John DiGennaro scored his team-leading 12th goal of the year on Saturday. He also leads the squad with 21 points . Bentley is 3-1 this season against this weekend’s opponents with a pair of wins over American International and a 1-1 record in games with Holy Cross.
The Ice Griffs beat American International, 5-1, on Sunday afternoon to take sole possession of fifth place. Canisius hosts Quinnipiac at 7:00 Friday night and Connecticut at 7:00 Saturday night. Senior goalie Stephen Fabiilli, the ITECH/MAAC Goalie of the Week, stopped 20 of 21 Yellow Jacket shots to earn his seventh victory of the year. Junior forward Chris Duggan scored the first two goals of the game, including the game-winner, in the victory. He leads the team with 16 assists which ties him for 8th in the league. The Ice Griffs are only two points behind Connecticut and the final home playoff slot and are two points ahead of Sacred Heart and American International. Senior forward Todd Bisson leads the Ice Griffs with 13 goals and places him fifth in the MAAC. Canisius leads the MAAC in penalty minutes with 22.7 minutes per game.
The Huskies tied Fairfield, 3-3, on Friday night and lost to Mercyhurst, 4-1, on Saturday night. Connecticut has road games at Mercyhurst at 7:30 Friday night and at Canisius at 7:00 Saturday night. Sophomore forward Ron D’Angelo notched the game-tying goal at the 16:59 mark of the second period in the tie against Fairfield. Sophomore defenseman Bret Bostock scored the Huskies lone goal, coming short-handed, in the loss to Mercyhurst. Freshman goalie Artie Imbriano made 31 saves against Fairfield while freshman goaltender Jason Carey stopped 24 shots in the loss to Mercyhurst.
The Stags tied Connecticut, 3-3, on Friday night and lost to Quinnipiac, 5-4, on Saturday night. Fairfield plays at Iona at 7:30 Friday night and at Army at 7:00 Saturday night. Sophomore Rae Metz totaled five points in the two games. Metz is sixth in the MAAC overall scoring race with 28 points . Junior Blaise Silka recorded four points in the two games. Six of the nine goals in the loss to Quinnipiac were scored on special teams. Fairfield was 3-7 on the power play, thus snapping a nine game streak without a power-play goal. The Stags are 2-7-1 since returning from break in January. Four of the seven losses have been by one goal, each of which came in the third period. Overall, the Stags are outshooting their opponents by nearly six shots per game and outshoot MAAC opponents by better than seven per game. The Stags sit in ninth place just two points out of eighth place and five points out of sixth place.
The Crusaders were defeated by Iona, 6-4, on Friday night. Holy Cross also lost a third period lead, falling 4-3 to Army on Tuesday night. Holy Cross hosts Bentley at 7:00 Friday night. Freshman forward Greg Kealey leads the MAAC with nine power-play goals, a total that ranks him tied for eight in the NCAA. He has scored five goals in the last three games, three of which have come on the power play. Kealey leads the Crusaders with 13 goals and 26 points . Junior Pat Rissmiller tallied a goal and an assist against Iona, giving him multiple point games in four of the last five games. The Holy Cross line of Pat Rissmiller, Greg Kealey, and Jeff Dams have been very productive of late. They have recorded 14 points over the last three games, which amounts to 53.8% of the Crusaders total points over that stretch. On the season, the trio have accounted for 35.8% of the Crusader scoring. Six of the top seven Holy Cross scorers are underclassmen . Holy Cross defeated Army, 3-2, the last time they met at the Hart Center and the Crusaders hold a 3-1-1 all-time series record over Bentley at the Hart Center.
The Gaels remain in second place with wins over Holy Cross, 6-4, on Friday night and Bentley, 6-3, on Saturday night. Iona hosts Fairfield at 7:30 Friday night and visits Sacred Heart at 7:00 Saturday night. Senior Adam Bouchard, the ITECH/MAAC Player of the Week, recorded five points in the two wins. He assisted on the game-winning goal against Holy Cross and scored two goals, including the game-winner, and tallied two assists in the victory over Bentley. He has set career high’s with 16 assists and 27 points . Senior goalie Ben Brady made 66 saves in winning both games. He is 8-1-1 in the MAAC with a .909 save percentage. Iona went 3-0 on the season versus both Bentley and Holy Cross. The 6-4 win over Holy Cross was the Gaels first ever at the Hart Center. Iona boasts a 3.96 goals per game average which is the fourth best scoring rate in the nation. Iona was 6 for 12 in power-play opportunities in the two wins, boosting them to 22.5 percent on the season which is good for first in the MAAC and tenth in the nation.
The Lakers were upset by American International, 5-4 in overtime, on Friday night but defeated Connecticut, 4-1, on Saturday night. Mercyhurst entertains Connecticut at 7:30 Friday night and Quinnipiac at 7:30 Saturday night. Senior forward Eric Ellis totaled four points in the two games. He leads the team in scoring with 31 points . Junior goalie Peter Aubry made 16 saves in the win over the Huskies. He has an overall record of 13-7-2 with a .924 save percentage and a 2.07 goals against average. Freshman goalie Matt Cifelli got his first conference road start at AIC Friday and took a 5-4 overtime loss. AIC’s win was its first ever against Mercyhurst who lead the overall series 5-1-1. Senior Jeff Gould has now scored at least one point in eight of his last nine games. The Lakers and Huskies are tied 4-4 in the all-time series but Mercyhurst has won both meetings this season, both at Connecticut. Quinnipiac leads the series against Mercyhurst 3-2. The teams have split a pair of games this season, both at Quinnipiac.
The Braves tied Sacred Heart, 3-3, on Friday night and beat Fairfield, 5-4, on Saturday night. Quinnipiac has road games at Canisius at 7:00 Friday night and at Mercyhurst at 7:30 Saturday night. Freshman goalie Justin Eddy stopped 42 of 46 shots in the two games. In MAAC play, he is 7-4-1 with a 2.29 goals against average and .928 save percentage. Senior Shawn Mansoff tallied three points in the two games. He scored the game-winning goal against Fairfield. In just 61 games at Quinnipiac, he has totaled 82 points . Senior forward Chris Cerrella, the top scorer in the MAAC Hockey League and 15th-best in all of Division I with 38 points, has recorded a team-best five multiple-goal and 12 multiple-point efforts on the season. He has scored at least one point in 22 of the Braves’ 28 games this season. With an assist against Fairfield, Cerrella became the third Quinnipiac player to record 100 career assists. Cerrella is in second place on the Quinnipiac career scoring list with 195 points . He needs eight points to surpass the current leader Todd Johnson who has 202 points.
The Pioneers tied Quinnipiac, 3-3, on Friday night. Sacred Heart visits Army at 7:00 Friday night and hosts Iona at 7:00 Saturday night. Freshman Mike Reagan had two goals and an assist including the game-tying goal against Quinnipiac Friday night. Over the last three games, the freshman forward has notched four goals and two assists. For the year, he has nine goals and seven assists for 16 points which is good for fourth on the team. He is tied for 10th in freshman scoring in the MAAC. Sophomore goalie Eddy Ferhi had 23 saves including five in overtime in the 3-3 tie against Quinnipiac. For the year he has a 6-4-4 record with a .928 save percentage and a 2.39 goals against average with 452.
Off the Cuff
A few thoughts to leave you with this week:
The Battle of Beantown — the annual Beanpot — has a new winner… finally!
Boston College finally lived up to its billing and the six-time defending champion Boston University couldn’t pull off the miraculous upset this year, as BC rolled to a 5-3 win on Monday. The MVP of the tournament was BC’s Krys Kolanos, and anyone who saw the game on TV might realize that Kolonos was like a man among boys out there. His only goal in the game came early as he wheeled around the net with only one hand on his stick, fought off the defender with the other hand, a beat a slow-moving Jason Tapp. Folks, this was a highlight-reel goal.
And speaking of highlight reels … anyone see UNH’s Colin Hemingway’s masterpiece last Saturday night on television?
In case you didn’t, Hemingway scored by skating past the goal and shooting back to his right side, while moving left. No big deal, except Hemingway put his stick between his legs to take the shot. If you’ve missed the video, find the replay. It was ESPY material.
Just to get people talking, too, I must say that after watching North Dakota and Wisconsin play to back-to-back ties last weekend, I’d like to propose that the NCAA follow the NHL lead and play four-on-four overtimes. They need to use some type of system that would still reward teams for overtime ties, but I think everyone would have liked to see a winner in those and plenty of other tie games last week. Four-on-four is a good solution to the problem.
And finally, I want to wish Sacred Heart equipment manager Freddy Ward a happy 30th birthday. He’s become an icon around the MAAC — all the coaches know him — and he brings a true sense of character to the Sacred Heart program. Happy 30th, Freddy!