Some things are worth the risk. In some cases, even a job offer.
The 2018-19 Sacred Heart men’s ice hockey team was appearing at the Atlantic Hockey playoffs, hosting a best-of-three series at home against RIT. The Pioneers had taken three of the four meetings between the two teams during the regular season and even claimed the first game of the series.
Sadly, that would be the last win of their season as RIT would grab the last two games on the road, upsetting the Pioneers and ending their season prematurely. For junior Jason Cotton, who was graduating that spring, he had a decision to make: enter the working world or return for one final season.
If Cotton decided to forgo his last season of college hockey, he would immediately begin a job in the investment banking industry. The job opportunity was manufactured by Cotton’s head coach, C.J. Marottolo.
Prior to becoming the head coach at Sacred Heart, Marottolo was an assistant at Yale University, where he became close with Keith McCullough, who is the CEO at Hedgeye Risk Management in Stamford, Conn.
“Whenever a young man on our team comes to me wanting to get into that line of work, I give him a call and see if he has any opportunities. He interviewed Jason and went through the process and got offered an opportunity,” said Marottolo.
The job was Cotton’s for the taking, but so was the chance to come back for one more season of college hockey.
Following Sacred Heart’s exit in the Atlantic Hockey playoffs in 2019, Marottolo received a call from Cotton the morning after their season-ending loss. He was not going to take the job.
“He said, ‘Coach, I want to thank you for helping me get a job down in Stamford, but I’m not going to take it. I hope you’re not mad at me. I want to train every single day this summer to get better,’” said Marottolo.
Marottolo was far from mad. Rather, he was thrilled to get Cotton for one last season.
What Cotton did during his senior year will long be remembered within the program and around the university. Cotton set career-highs in points (37), goals (20), and assists (17) in 2020. Those numbers put Cotton in consideration for the Hobey Baker Award, which is given to the best college hockey player in the country.
“Every day he was working on a piece of his game. He was working on his strength, conditioning, his explosiveness. When his senior year came, he was ready to go,” said Marottolo.
As Cotton was leading the Pioneers statistically, he was also the driving factor in Sacred Heart’s success. The team won 21 games in 2019-20, the most in a season since the 2009-10 season.
Within those 21 wins were victories in back-to-back nights against Yale and nationally ranked Quinnipiac to claim the inaugural Connecticut Ice Festival championship. Cotton was named the festival’s Most Valuable Player after scoring two goals and dishing out a pair of assists in the two wins.
The Connecticut Ice championship sparked the Pioneers, who finished the regular season with a 5-2-1 record over their final eight games and sat as the second seed in the conference tournament. Unfortunately, COVID-19 cancelled the tournament before Sacred Heart could get started.
“I’m sure if you ask Jason, that opportunity to compete for a championship is something he will always miss,” said Marottolo.
Although Cotton and Sacred Heart did not get the chance to compete for an Atlantic Hockey title, Cotton’s senior year led him to sign a professional contract with the Carolina Hurricanes, becoming the first player in the program’s history to ink an NHL contract.
Pretty far from your ordinary 9-to-5 job.