October 5, 2006

Pioneers Set to Renew Quest for Atlantic Hockey Championship

Oct. 5, 2006

Fairfield, CT - School records for overall wins, conference wins and a third place finish in the regular season Atlantic Hockey Standings. Individual records for most assists, points and goaltender victories in a season. All of these accomplishments were achieved by the 2005-06 edition of the Sacred Heart men's ice hockey team. However, as the new season begins, there is still one giant stone the Pioneers have left unturned: An Atlantic Hockey Championship.

When the Pioneers renew their hunt this year, leading the way will be senior captain Pierre-Luc O'Brien (Nicolet, QC). O'Brien, who is on pace to become the most decorated offensive player in Sacred Heart history, finished last season with 19 goals and a single season record 31 assists for a school record 50 points. His play earned him All-Atlantic Hockey honors.

"Pierre has developed tremendously over the course of his career and, this year, has grown nicely into the role of captain, head coach Shaun Hannah said. "We look to him to drive the offense."

Sacred Heart will rely heavily on O'Brien and his line-mates, junior Alexandre Parent (Boisbriand, QC) and sophomore Bear Trapp (Regina, SK). Together the trio formed one of the most dangerous lines in the league. Trapp took the nation by storm, with a phenomenal rookie season. He scored 16 goals and added 27 assists, finishing with 47 points and earning Atlantic Hockey Rookie of the Year honors.

Parent, who will serve as an assistant captain for the Pioneers this year, did a lot of the dirty work for the line, including playing the point on the power play. He finished the year with 38 points, including 11 goals and 27 helpers.

"The offensive line has a nice chemistry," Hannah said. "Trapp and O'Brien complement each others skills and Parent can provide a good spark."

Along with the scoring prowess of the top line, Sacred Heart will also have a strong group of returning players to support the attack. Among the leading goal scorers from 2005-06 who return this year are senior Peter Ferraro (Pleasantville, NY) (6 goals, 6 assists) and sophomore Eric Giosa (Northville, MI) (4 goals, 2 assists). Senior Drew Sanders (Modesto, CA), junior Nick Kary (Wetaskiwin, AB) and sophomore Kyle Tyll (Sandy Hook, CT) form the third line returning line for the Pioneers.

"Our returning players offer a nice supporting cast and we are going to look for them to step up and add even more offense then they did last year," Hannah said.

In addition to their top offensive line, the Pioneers will welcome back their top goaltender as well as Jason Smith (St. Lambert, QC) returns for his senior season, and second as the Pioneers number one option in net. Smith posted an 18-11-1 record with a 2.24 goals against average in 2005-2006, the best average in Atlantic Hockey. He also has a .927 save percentage. Those numbers placed him 13th in the country in goals against and 8th in the nation in save percentage. His 18 wins are the most in a single season by any Pioneer goaltender in Sacred Heart history.

In front of Smith, the red and white return four of their top six defensemen. Junior assistant captain Scott Marchesi (South Portland, ME) and senior Kalen Wright (Candle Lake, SK) will form the top combination for the Pioneers. Marchesi had four goals and nine assists, while Wright lit the lamp three times and added nine helpers last season. The duo also was part of the SHU power play unit and formed the top penalty-killing combination for the Pioneers.

The other set of Pioneer defensemen includes senior Todd Spencer (Brentwood, NH) and sophomore Dave Grimson (Mozart, SK). Spencer is known for his heavy hitting, physical style of play while Grimson also played special team for the Sacred Heart last season.

With nine guys on the roster who play the position, we've great depth in our defense corps," Hannah said. "Everyone can fill a certain role."

Sacred Heart lost seven players to graduation, so Hannah will be looking for some of his seven incoming freshmen to step up and fill the gaps. The group of SHU recruits consists of five forwards and two defensemen. The new attackers include Erik Boisvert (Drummondville, QC) Matthew Gordon (Lynnfield, MA), Dave Jarman (Toronto, ON), Nick Johnson (Windsor, CT) and Mike Rosata. On the blue line, two newcomers will don the red and white this fall as the Pioneers welcome Corey Laurysen (Ottawa, ON) and Gregg Rodriguez (Saratoga, CA).

Hannah is very impressed with his group of incoming layers. "Collectively the group brings elements to our team that were lost due to graduation, Hannah said. "They are a group of young men who are academically focused, with a strong work ethic and solid character."

The 2006-07 Pioneer schedule is highlighted by first time match-ups with Michigan State and Wayne State. The Pioneers will also have contests with their traditional AHA rivals, including newcomers RIT and Air Force, defending champion Holy Cross and archrival Mercyhurst.

The Pioneers will start the season with an exhibition game against the University of Ottawa on October 6 at Terry Conners Rink in Stamford. After the scrimmage, Sacred Heart will start the regular season with six straight road games. The regular season begins with a non-conference game at UMass on October 13. The next night the Pioneers open their Atlantic Hockey schedule with a visit to Army. The following weekend SHU will travel to Buffalo for a pair of games against Canisius.

The weekend of October 27-28 will bring a non-conference test for Sacred Heart as they travel to Michigan for games against Wayne State and Michigan State. It will be the first contest against either team for the Pioneers. The Pioneers return to Connecticut to open their home schedule against archrival Mercyhurst November 3-4 at the Milford Ice Pavilion. The weekend of November 10-11 brings a home-and-home set against Atlantic Hockey defending champions Holy Cross.

The first weekend of December, the Pioneers will travel to Colorado Springs, CO to face Atlantic Hockey newcomer Air Force. The other new member of the AHA, RIT, will visit Milford Ice Pavilion January 13-14. After a trip to Mercyhurst February 9-10, the Pioneers close out the regular season with home-and-home series against Holy Cross and Army.

"Over the last few years, the league has been very balanced, and it seems that should be the case this year," Hannah said. "It should make for some good battles every night out."

Because RIT is in the second year of their transition to Division I, they will not be eligible for the AHA Tournament. Therefore, the league playoffs will consist of nine teams. The bottom two teams in the standings will play an opening round game on March 3rd, with the winner advancing to the quarterfinals. The four quarterfinal games will take place on March 10th, at the home of the top four seeds. The semifinals and finals will take place March 16-17 at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester.

"Our goal going in is always to win the Atlantic Hockey Championship," Hannah said. "We'll have to be focused and work hard every day to get to that level."

When the Atlantic Hockey championship trophy is presented on the evening of March 17th, the Pioneers want to be the team carrying it off the ice. Otherwise, any records that might be set will just be numbers on a piece of paper.