Many thought that if Sacred Heart ever could make a run at a title, last year was the year. That was until the Pioneers ran into a postseason steamroller named Bentley College, bowing in the first round for the fourth time in five seasons.
Then graduation took its toll on Sacred Heart, and even home ice might seem like a stretch this year. The Pioneers lost one of the league’s best goaltenders in Eddy Ferhi and also graduated one of the school’s all-time scorers in Martin Paquet (67 goals, 142 points in his career).
— Sacred Heart coach Shaun Hannah
Still, head coach Shaun Hannah doesn’t seem too worried.
“We’ve got a good recruiting class coming in, and the guys that are returning we feel very confident in,” said Hannah.
Recruiting could be the key to Sacred Heart’s success. Freshman Jason Smith will join Kevin Lapointe, a junior without much experience but who proved himself in a win last year at Miami, to put together what Hannah hopes is a solid one-two combo in net.
Smith’s story is one to focus on. After sending a highlight tape to Sacred Heart, an assistant coach went out and saw him play. Immediately sold, Smith was offered a chance to come to Sacred Heart, accepted and is now headed to Bridgeport, Conn. What’s strange about this story is that he wasn’t heavily recruited, yet this past June was drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the sixth round.
“We got on him early and we didn’t really battle with anyone to get him,” said Hannah of the recruiting process for Smith. “He had an outstanding year with his junior team (Lenoxville/Junior AAA) and went to the national tournament.
“I don’t think we won the recruiting battle, rather just got to a player early.”
Hannah said he knew NHL teams were looking at Smith and that his being drafted capped a major month for the school.
“Having Eddy Ferhi sign an NHL contract and then have a goaltender get drafted by the defending Stanley Cup champs, it’s a nice thing to have happen. You can carry that momentum into the season.”
Goaltending aside, the Pioneers offense will once again look to the likes of Garrett Larson, a 40-point scorer from a year ago, to pace the attack. Defensively, the Pioneers will miss blueliners Les Hrapchuk, Nick Nutcher and Lloyd Tennant, but still return three defensemen with 25-plus games of experience from last season.
For Hannah now, the challenge is putting the pieces together. He knows that the ability of his young players to adjust is key, but fitting them into the puzzle will go a long way.
“The players who are returning have touched base with the freshmen over the summer, and the second that they hit campus they brought the freshmen into the fold,” said Hannah. “We have the skill level on our team to be competitive, and getting these new guys into the mix — the sooner our team comes together, the sooner we’ll have some success.”