Column: One Year Ago, Sacred Heart Hockey Moved the Needle in its Program’s History

I remember when I first got word of the Connecticut Ice Festival becoming a reality in the fall of 2019. My initial thought was “That seems like a fun idea. I don’t think they’ve ever had anything like this before.”. I had watched the Beanpot tournament in Boston and certainly hoped this tournament would have a similar sort of excitement to it.

It did not disappoint. Especially for the Pioneers.

In what turned out to be a year full of unexpected moments, Sacred Heart’s Connecticut Ice championship was one of the bright spots.

The championship and the way in which they won the title, beating Yale and a ranked Quinnipiac on back to back nights seemed like the perfect way for the Pioneers to make their presence felt within the state. But they even made an impact before their first game.

The first night of the tournament, I was racing to Webster Bank Arena following a Sacred Heart basketball doubleheader at the Pitt Center. I pull into the parking garage and find a spot and make my way towards the arena. I got through security and found my way to my seat on “press row”, located behind one of the goals.

As soon as I sat down, I got word that Sacred Heart was holding a press conference in the media room in five minutes. I once again got up and ended up sprinting around the arena to make it in time. The news that came from the press conference was certainly worth running for.

A premier hockey arena? On Sacred Heart’s campus?

“This is a game-changer,” I thought to myself. “This gives us a level playing ground with other schools in the state.”

Soon enough, athletic director Bobby Valentine was explaining how having “every bell and whistle you can imagine” makes prospective students and student-athletes feel special about coming to Sacred Heart.

It felt like their wasn’t anything that could top this news. But then you snap back to reality that there is a game to be played, with spot in the championship on the line.

They won that game, and won the championship the following day, behind the strength of their captain Jason Cotton, who would claim the MVP of the tournament after scoring two goals and dishing two assists in the two victories.

Prior to the tournament, Cotton expressed how he wanted to look back in 50 years and remember that his team became the first Connecticut Ice champions.

Mission accomplished.

“Just from where this program was and where it is now is unbelievable. Not only for the guys in the locker room, but for the senior classes before us and before them,” said Cotton. “They came in and they left a jersey in a better place. That’s what we think about when we walk in this building. This is going to be a lifetime memory.”

Cotton even referred to Sacred Heart as the underdogs entering the tournament, citing that the Pioneers would be punching bags to the other schools within the state in past years.

Overall, the two-day, four-game tournament brought in over 10,000 fans to Webster Bank Arena. A big key to Sacred Heart’s tournament championship was the role that the students and fans of the team played.

The university did everything they could to send as many fans to the game given it was a few miles away from campus. Shuttles and carpools organized by the school along with free t-shirts helped maximize the attendance within the campus community. The energy the fans provided certainly translated to the Sacred Heart bench.

“A few of my players said that when they skated out, they got chills up and down their body,” said Marottolo. “The administration, to push this event, support this event, and the student body rallying around their classmates, it was the difference.”

The Connecticut Ice was the first hockey games I had ever covered. Call it spoiled, but it certainly got me hooked on the best that college hockey brings out.

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