After turnaround season, Sacred Heart looks to keep building

At the beginning of last season, the Sacred Heart Pioneers were coming off a disappointing 11-23-4 season and didn’t have a head coach. But C.J. Marottolo put the pieces together quickly and led his team to a 21-win season and a spot in the Atlantic Hockey championship game.

“The group of seniors we had last season will be sorely missed,” he said. “They really raised the bar. We’re going to try to build off that.”

Gone are all-stars Nick Johnson and Dave Jarman, who combined for 101 points last season. But the cupboard isn’t bare. Patrick Knowlton (39 points last season) and Matt Gingera (23 points) will provide leadership, and two impressive rookies last year, goaltender Steven Legatto and forward Eric Delong, are expected to improve on all-rookie seasons.

Marottolo has brought in eight freshmen, including R.J. Boyd, who was selected by the Florida Panthers in the seventh round of the 2010 NHL entry draft.

“He’s a big, strong defenseman who can move the puck,” Marottolo said. “We like our defensemen to skate, and R.J. can skate.”

Legatto will get the bulk of the starts in goal early, but Oliver St. Onge is in the mix as well.

“There will be competition for the [goaltending] job, but Legatto has proven himself,” Marottolo said. “He’s ahead going into the season, but St. Onge is right on his heels.

“We achieved a lot last year, but not ultimately what we wanted, which was to make the NCAA tournament. We’re exited to get back at it and see what this team can do.”