A more positive thinker in college hockey than Sacred Heart coach Tom O’Malley, you’re just not gonna find.
Rain pours in through a leaky roof, and he’s likely to collect the drips to water the office plants.
That wellspring of optimism has carried him well through his coaching career, which is a darned good thing.
He’s needed that sunny side to endure the start up headaches produced during his stops at Wayne State, Boston College (his alma mater), and for the past eight years, Sacred Heart.
Some campaigns have been more trying than others, but with his Pioneers struggling to a 3-14-0 mark — largely against D-III competition — this one has tested O’Malley in a big way.
“It’s been a tough year,” he sighed, moments after watching his charges blow a lead with 12 seconds to play against Southern Maine and wind up suffering a 5-4 overtime loss.
“It’s hard sometimes. We have some very good players on this team. But (sometimes) our best players struggle. You’re never going to hear me make excuses. But it’s been that type of a year. I’m doing my best to keep them focused.”
There is no crying in hockey, of course, and the Pioneers aren’t asking anyone to shed any tears for them.
However, they are the lone independent Division I program in the sport, which means they are truly in a league of their own. A league with no champion.
“We’re not in a league,” said O’Malley, “which means we’re playing Maine one weekend, and we’re playing (a club team) the next weekend. We have ‘D-I’ next to our name. It doesn’t mean we play as a ‘D-I’ team all the time. And we don’t.”
Heck, even giving another D-I team a decent test would be a victory of sorts.
As it is, the Pioneers have played seven games against D-I opponents and have lost them all, by a whopping 51-2 margin. Even Job’s patience would have been tested to the limit.
Little wonder then, that O’Malley blew his stack after the loss to Southern Maine, a fair to middlin’ D-III outfit.
“I just let them have it,” said O’Malley, “because we gave that game away. I can’t be fake with them.”
The dose of reality proved to be helpful the next day, as Sacred Heart turned the tables on USM and took home a 2-1 win.
One win over a D-III doesn’t represent a corner turned, and for the Pioneers, being truly competitive as a D-I seems to be something of a pipe dream.
Finding their way into a conference, even if it means another round of lump taking, would be a great first step. If only they could take one.
“I keep hearing (things), like we’re going to form Atlantic Hockey for women,” said O’Malley. “But it hasn’t happened. It’s something I’d love to do. We had an opportunity to join College Hockey America, two times. And it didn’t happen for us. Whatever the reasons. I’m all for it.”
What can be said for the Pioneers is that they are all in the program by choice. No guns held to anyone’s head. Each player has her own reason for playing hockey at Sacred Heart, which is reason enough.
“We’re out looking for the best possible players we can get,” said O’Malley. “But I’ll be honest with you. The BC’s and the Providences and the UConn’s are going to get their players. I mean, we’re going for their players. But when it all comes down to it, facilities and scholarships are going to play into it. A ‘D-I’ player is worthy of a ‘D-I’ situation. I try to provide that for our team.
“We do the best we can with what we have.”
Ah, there’s that sunny side, again. Poking through the clouds.