A Year of Historic Firsts for Men’s AAU Club Hockey

The SHU Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) club hockey team defeated Stony Brook University 2-1 on Sunday, Feb. 25. to win the Empire Black Division championship.

Earlier in the weekend, the team won two games to advance to the championship game. Starting on Friday, Feb. 23 with a 3-2 win against Hofstra University. This quarterfinals contest went into four overtimes and was eventually ended by sophomore defenseman Luke Botti’s game winning goal. The team continued this success going into Saturday as they won 6-4 in their semifinal game versus Farmingdale State College.

“The team knew early in the second semester what the goal was, and they were willing to make all the sacrifices to accomplish the goal,” said Head Coach Joseph Lane. “They were looking to make a historic second semester push. Word around the locker room was that they wanted to go through them [Farmingdale and Stony Brook] to get the championship win, they didn’t want an easy way out.”

Early in the semester, the team lost back-to-back games against both Farmingdale and Stony Brook, two teams they would go on to beat in the playoffs. After these losses, SHU responded with seven straight wins and claimed the conference title. In this stretch, the Pioneers outscored their opponents 36-12.

A key component of the Pioneers success came from the 12 freshmen that made up most of the team’s lineup. In the playoffs, freshmen Jake Calanni and Barry Burke scored goals in Sunday’s championship game. Freshman forward Jack Kinahan also made a major impact, registering four points in the Pioneers semifinal win.

“The freshmen were absolutely a huge part of our success this season, and I could not be happier with the class we were given,” said senior assistant captain Brendan O’Donnell. “It really says a lot about how quickly they were able to adapt to college hockey, coming from high school and travel hockey.”

Another reason for the Pioneers success this semester came from junior goaltender James Burtch. After missing seven games in the fall due to injury, Burtch played in all 11 games this semester, finishing with a record of 9-2. He was named Second Team All- Empire.

“Burtch has a long history with the AAU team. Nobody wanted a win more than him to solidify his place as one of the best goaltenders in the program. That intensity and passion is not something you can expect from an average goaltender,” said Lane.

This season for the Pioneers was a year full of historic firsts. The team celebrated surpassing a new regular season high in wins at 18, as well as not only winning their first playoff game, but their first championship.

The team will return much of their lineup from this year in the fall. In the team’s three-year history, they are yet to clinch an AAU (formerly CHF) Nationals bid, as they must finish as a top two team in their district.

“This year was a complete turnaround,” said junior captain Jason Bonante. “From our first year, playing only four games, to being able to make a name for ourselves this year in the Empire, it was way more than I could ask for. The group is definitely hungry for more though, we can definitely make some noise next year and definitely make a national’s push.”

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