The Sacred Heart University men’s ice hockey team is about to embark on a historic 30th season. The Pioneers, picked to finish second in the Atlantic Hockey Association (AHA) preseason poll, are also preparing to move into their new home as the Martire Family Arena is set to open in January.
The Pioneers went 15-18-4 a year ago, and 11-12-3 in conference play, good for 5th in the AHA. Head coach CJ Marottolo is hoping to see improvement from his side this season.
“The pain of losing last year has given us fuel. That always sticks in your stomach as an athlete and that’s what drives you,” said Marottolo.
Marottolo sets very high expectations for his team and emphasizes staying on the same page.
“The goals to the team are pretty clear. We want to win the Atlantic and make the [NCAA] tournament for the first time in program history,” said senior goalie Justin Robbins.
Before arriving at SHU, Marottolo was an assistant and associate head coach at Yale University for 13 years. He is known for recruiting talented players that make an impact on his teams.
“This team is full of a lot of guys that have been together and they are really serving the purpose of what they are fighting for right now,” Marottolo said.
The 2022-2023 Pioneers have many veteran players who have seen the potential of what they can accomplish, led by senior defenseman Logan Britt, junior forward Neil Shea and senior goalie Justin Robbins.
“We’re an older team that has a lot of experience. We want to battle and put pucks in the back of the net,” said Britt.
The Martire Family Arena (MFA) is set for opening night on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2022. The Pioneers will take on Boston College in a game that is already sparking up excitement for the community and players.
“Every day on campus we drive by it and see all the progress they’ve made, so I think there is a lot of excitement from our team and staff,” said Shea. “We can’t wait to move in there and call it home.”
MFA will be home to the men’s and women’s ice hockey programs, the figure skating team and the men’s and women’s club ice hockey teams.
The goal of this building is to provide facilities for not only athletes but for Sacred Heart students and the surrounding community. It will contribute opportunities and services for students who are studying in the Sports Communications and Media program.
“It’s going to be absolutely spectacular in terms of what the arena has for our guys to be the best they can be,” said Marottolo. “The fan experience will be second to none.”
Amidst all of this excitement, Marottolo makes sure his team retains their focus as they play a majority of their schedule before moving into their new home. The Pioneers are set to play 20 games, including nine at Total Mortgage Arena in Bridgeport, their current home, before opening night at MFA.
“The anticipation builds with every day, but it’s still a long way off,” said Marottolo. “We have a lot of important games to play before we even get there.”
Sacred Heart’s first drop of the puck in the regular season is scheduled for Oct. 7 against Providence College in Rhode Island.
“We’re going to do everything that we can to be ready to put our best foot forward for every single night that we play,” said Marottolo.
Sacred Heart Athletics contributed to this article.