Setting the Scene...The Sacred Heart Pioneers begin conference play of their 20th season against the Bentley Falcons Tuesday night at the John A. Ryan Arena. The 2012-13 season also commemorates the 10th season for the Atlantic Hockey Association, which SHU has been a member of since its inception in the 2003-04 season.
Series Notes...The Pioneers are 21-21-4 all-time against Bentley, including a record of 1-4-1 last year. SHU and Bentley have met in the opening round of the AHA Playoffs at the J.A.R. the past two seasons, with the teams taking turns ending the other's season. In 2011, the Pioneers downed the Falcons 6-3 behind a hat trick by Matt Gingera in the then single-elimination First Round. Last year, the Pioneers forced a third and decisive game in the new best-of-three format behind another hat trick by Gingera in a game two 4-2 win, but lost 5-3 in game one and 5-0 in game three.
Pioneers in AHA Play...The Pioneers are 108-105-29 in nine years of play in the Atlantic Hockey Association. While they are looking for their first AHA title, they have been to the conference championship twice, falling 4-0 to Holy Cross in the inagural season of 2003-04 and 6-1 to RIT in 2009-10. SHU posted its best conference record in 2005-06, when the Pioneers went 18-8-2 in AHA play.
Try and Ketchem...Senior forward Ben Ketchum has enjoyed success against the Falcons in his two seasons as a Pioneer. He has five goals and nine points in nine career games against Bentley, registering eight points in four games against the Falcons in his first season for SHU ('10-'11) after transferring from Quinnipiac.
Last Time Out...Sacred Heart lost 8-2 at Providence Friday night. SHU played a tough opening 20 minutes, going into the intermission down 1-0, however the Friars exploded for five second period goals to runaway with the game. Eric Delong and Drew George scored third period goals for SHU. Delong, George, and Beau Walker all recorded two points each.
Scouting the Falcons...Bentley was voted tied for 4th in the Preseason AHA Coaches Poll. The Falcons return 16 players and nine of their top-10 scorers, including last year's AHA points leader Brett Gensler. He paced the conference with 50 points and 27 assists and finished second with 23 goals.
Up Next...SHU continues conference play this weekend with a home-and-home against Army. The Pioneers visit the Black Knights Friday at 7:05 pm at Tate Rink in West Point, NY, then host them in the home opener Saturday at 7:05 pm at the Milford Ice Pavilion.
Exhibition Highlights.. Sacred Heart played its lone exhibition Sunday, Oct. 7, losing 4-3 to St. Thomas University at the Milford Ice Pavilion. Ben Lake, Jacob Brightbill, and Beau Walker all scored for SHU. The Pioneers outshot the Tommies 32-25. Andrew Bodnarchuk, Steven Legatto, and Fredrik Melander played a period each in net, with Legatto stopping all 10 shots he faced in the second period.
Meet the Captain...Senior Eric Delong will wear the "C" for the second straight year. Delong enters the game with 88 career points (33 goals, 53 assists), and is 14 points shy of becoming the 12th player in program history to reach 100 career points. He made an immediate impact as a freshman, registering 35 points as a rookie. Last year, he tied for second on the team with 12 assists. Senior Tommy Castonguay and junior Neil Fachini will serve as Assistant Captains.
Second time around...The Pioneers will be looking for continued production from sophomores Drew George and Brian Sheehan after successful freshmen seasons. George finished second on the team with 14 goals and 23 points thanks to a hot finish. He saw a 12-game point streak snapped in the season-ending playoff loss to Bentley, during which he scored 10 goals and seven assists. He was particularly dangerous on the man advantage, leading SHU with four power play goals. Sheehan finished third on the team with 10 goals and 22 points, and tied for second on the team with 12 assists.
Seniors looking to end it how they started...The SHU Hockey Class of 2013 will look finish their careers how they started them. As freshmen, defensemen Alex Stuart and Mitchell Stretch, forwards Eric Delong and Kyle Verbeek, and goalie Steven Legatto all were key contributors to the Sacred Heart's second place finish, school record 12-game unbeaten streak, and trip to the AHA Championship Game. Legatto set the single-season school record with 19 wins as a freshman while also posting a 3.10 GAA and .907 SV%. Although he joined the team as a sophomore transfer, forward Ben Ketchum will also look to finish off strong, having registered a line of 15-19-34 in 69 career games.
New Faces in the Crowd...Sacred Heart welcomes nine new members to its team this year. The newest Pioneers include four forwards, three defenseman, and two goalies. Below are their statistics with their previous teams last season.
* Morgan Bonner (5-10/185) -36 goals, 28 assists, 64 games for the Newmarket Hurricanes of the OJHL.
* Beau Walker (6-0/180) -12 goals, 33 assists, 45 points, 58 games for Corpus Christi Ice Rays of the NAHL.
* Jake Lynes (6-2/180) - 15 goals, 22 assists, 37 points, 59 games for the Topeka Road Runners of the NAHL.
* Nick Curry is a transfer from UMass-Lowell and is eligible to play this season after sitting out all of last year. He tallied two assists in 16 games as a freshman in 2010 for the River Hawks.
*Jacob Brightbill (5-8/170) played for the Walpole Express of the AJHL last season. "He's a smooth-skating, puck-moving, offensive-minded defenseman who should help create offense from the back end," said Marottolo.
*Josh Phillips 6-3/190) - 2 goals,18 assists, 20 points last season for the Nanaimo Clippers of the BCHL.
*Matthew Solomon (6-2/190) - 10 goals, 30 assists, 40 points, 123 PIM, 44 games for the Boston Bandits of the EJHL.Goalies:
*Fredrik Melander (5-8/165) - .903 save percentage in 960 minutes for Trinity Pawling Prep School last year.
*Alex Vazzano (6-2/192) - 1-4 with a .890 save percentage, 3.62 GAA, 7 games for Vermont. Will not be eligible to play until next season per NCAA transfer rule.
Pioneer Sports Network...Once again Sacred Heart men's ice hockey games will be broadcast by America One, formerly known as B2.Pioneer fans can access the network through the "America One" link on the men's ice hockey page at SacredHeartPioneers.com or at AtlanticHockeyOnline.com. Live audio will also be carried for most games through Stretch Internet, also accessable on SacredHeartPioneers.com by following the audio links.Randy Brochu calls the play-by-play alongside Kyle Tyll (home) providing the color commentary. Listen to tonight's game by following this link.