Hockey’s New Home: If You Build It, They Will Come On the Women’s Side

“I kind of blacked out a little bit.”

            That’s what was going on in junior forward Paige McNeil’s mind as she was skating in all alone on the Harvard goalie in overtime of the Sacred Heart University’s women’s hockey team’s first game in the new Martire Family Arena on Jan. 15.

            “When I saw just open ice, I was kind of caught off guard,” said McNeil. “I panicked a little bit because that’s obviously a huge opportunity, but there was a whole lot of excitement after that.”

            McNeil’s goal 1:04 into overtime gave the Pioneers a 2-1 win over the Harvard Crimson, a formidable opponent from the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC). The win marked Sacred Heart’s first win over an opponent from the ECAC in five years. 

            “That’s definitely the coolest goal I’ve ever scored,” said McNeil.

            It was the game that the team had been waiting for since ground was broken on the arena on March 15, 2021. The new facility was part of the reason why Delani Mackay, a graduate transfer center from Colgate, decided to join the Pioneers after four years in Hamilton, N.Y., with the Raiders. 

            “The new arena was definitely a pull towards Sacred Heart,” said Mackay. “I knew that they were getting a new arena and I thought that was pretty special.”

            Mackay scored the team’s first goal in that new arena at 4:58 in the first period. It has been a quick transition from Colgate to Sacred Heart for Mackay, as she leads the team in both goals and assists.

            Although the scoreboard favored the Pioneers, the shots on goal did not. The Crimson handily outshot SHU, finishing with 55 shots on goal to Sacred Heart’s 21. The team was kept in the game thanks to the play of sophomore goalie Carly Greene. 

            Greene had 54 saves, tying a career and season high, and made sure that Harvard wouldn’t score more than once. 

            “I had so much adrenaline throughout that game that I didn’t really fully understand what was going on,” said Greene. “I was very dialed in and focusing on play at a time and living in the moment.” 

            Greene also had 54 saves in November against nationally ranked UConn.

            “Carly gets up for those big games,” said Sacred Heart head coach Tom O’Malley. “She made some incredible stops, some at point blank, and she was challenged but came out on top.”

            It was quite the jump in atmosphere for the Pioneer women, as they went from playing in front of less than 200 regularly at the Sports Center of Connecticut in Shelton to over 2,000 in their new $80 million home. O’Malley said his team was prepared for the moment however and that the arena was everything it was billed to be and more. 

            “We really feel like we’re playing in our home arena now,” said O’Malley. “We’re playing in front of the band, in front of fans, things that the team had not experienced before, and so you really don’t have to say too much to get the team up.”

            Following the dramatic win on opening night, the Pios won two more home games, sweeping Post in a weekend series on Jan. 20 and 21. It has been an extended hot streak for the team, as they have won 7 of their last 9 games dating back to the beginning of December.

            “At this time of the year, we should be hitting on all cylinders, and hard work ethic and preparation have gotten us to where we are right now,” said O’Malley.

            Sacred Heart currently sits in fourth in the New England Women’s Hockey Alliance (NEWHA) standings, and will look to stay unbeaten in Martire Family Arena when they play Post once again on Jan. 31 before traveling to New Hampshire to play a two-games series against Franklin Pierce University on Feb. 3 and 4.

Sacred Heart Athletics contributed to this article.

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