Setting the Scene...The Pioneers open the season against the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the first-ever meeting between the two programs.
Game Coverage...Audio of this weekend's games will be available at www.SacredHeartPioneers.com by following the audio links on the men's hockey schedule page. Randy Brochu has the call.
About the Pioneers...The Pioneers return their top two scorers from last year, senior winger Matt Gingera and junior center Eric Delong. Gingera led the team with 21 goals, third most in program history for a single season, and Delong led the team with 21 assists. The linemates tied each other for the team lead with 30 points. The Pioneers went 6-25-6 last year after reaching the Atlantic Hockey Championship game vs. RIT the season before. SHU beat Bentley in the First Round of the AHA Tournament, but were swept by the eventual conference champs Air Force in the best of three Quarterfinals.
Scouting the Gophers...One of the most storied programs in college hockey, Minnesota begins its 91st season picked 6th in the WCHA preseason coaches and media poll and opens the season ranked #19 in the USCHO.com poll. Seventeen out of 27 players on the roster are NHL Draft picks, including first-rounder Nick Bjugstad (19th overall-Florida). Minnesota finished last year 16-14-6, losing in the first round of the WCHA playoffs after a 5th place conference finish.
All-Time vs. the WCHA...The Pioneers are 0-4-1 all-time vs. WCHA schools. SHU earned a 2-2 against Colorado College 12/19/08, then lost 7-0 to CC the following night the last time they faced a WCHA opponent. SHU has also played Denver once (lost 5-0 Dec.28, 2007) and St. Cloud State twice (lost 9-1 and 3-1 Jan. 28-29, 2005). The Pioneers also have skated to 2-2 and 1-1 ties against Bemidji State, current members of the WCHA, back when they still played in the CHA on Oct. 18-19, 2002.
Take it to the Bank... For the second straight season, the Pioneers will call Webster Bank Arena home for several regular season games. After playing five home contests at the 8,500-seat home of the AHL's Bridgeport Sound Tigers, SHU will play eight home games at Webster Bank Arena this season. SHU will play those home games in partnership with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers as part of single-admission doubleheaders, with the Pioneers' games either following or preceding a Sound Tigers home game. SHU faces off at 12:00 pm against RIT on January 15, at 4:00 pm on December 3 against Robert Morris, January 14 against RIT, February 4 against Bentley, February 11 against UCONN, and February 18 against Holy Cross, at 6:00 pm against Niagara on November 27, and at 7:00 pm against Yale on November 22. Webster Bank Arena is also the site of the NCAA Men's Hockey East Regional for the third time this season.
And the Leaders are...Eric Delong, captain, and Matt Gingera and Chris Bailer, assistant captains. Delong played every game last season, has already racked up 65 points (24 G, 41 A), and continues to be one of the team's strongest defensive forwards. Gingera enjoyed a break-out junior season thanks to a strong finish, scoring nine goals in the final six games, including a third-period hat trick in SHU's win over Bentley in the First Round of the AHA Tournament. Bailer, a stay-at-home defenseman, is a shot-blocking specialist who commands the respect of his teammates with his willingness to sacrifice his body.
In Net...Junior Steven Legatto and freshman Andrew Bodnarchuk are expected to see the majority of time in net. Legatto set the single-season school record with 19 wins in'08-'09 and played every minute of SHU's school record 12-game unbeaten streak that year. Bodnarchuk was the MVP of the SJHL with a 2.82 GAA and .916 save percentage for the Humboldt Broncos two seasons ago.
Freshman Orientation...The Pioneers added five freshman forwards this season: Ben Lake, Ryan Stanimir, Brian Sheehan, Chad Barthelmess, and Drew George. Head Coach C.J. Marottolo provided a scouting report on his new recruits up front:
Lake comes to SHU known for being a fast, strong, two-way center who is very good in face offs. "He'll bring grit, intelligence, and speed," said Marottolo. The past two seasons for the Fort McMurray Oil Barons of the AJHL, he scored consistently. He followed up his 2009-10 scoring line of 24-27-51 in 58 games with a 2010-11 scoring line of 23-29-52 in 53 games.
Sheehan begins his collegiate career after tallying a line of 23-44-67 in 44 games for the Jersey Hitmen of the EJHL. "He is extremely skilled with a great, quick stick, said Marottolo. "We're looking for him to a point producer."
Barthelmess also come to SHU by way of the EJHL, after totaling 24-23-47 in 42 games for the Springfield Pics last year. "He is strong, fast, and can really shoot a puck," said Marottolo.
Stanimir looks to build on a season in the BCHL in which he produced nearly a point per game(20-35-55 in 56 games) for the Nanaimo Clippers. "He has a good stick, very good hockey IQ, and great offensive instincts," said Marottolo.
Drew George comes to the Pioneers by way of the Weyburn Red Wings of the SJHL, where he put up a scoring total of 21-36-57 in 47 games. "He is highly skilled, and a great play-maker who can make those around him better," said Marottolo.
Returning Forwards...The Pioneers return seven forwards who registered double-digit points. Junior Ben Ketchum (6-12-18), a fast-skating right wing with a hard shot, picked up his point total down the stretch in his first season with SHU after transferring from Quinnipiac. Junior right wing Kyle Verbeek (6-6-12), the son of former NHL great Pat Verbeek, displayed a knack for going to the net for rebound goals. Sophomore right wing Torin Snydeman played his way onto the top line with Delong and Gingera with a strong finish (6 points in final 4 games). Senior center Anthony Yelovich (4-7-11) looks for a breakout season after three years of playing various roles. Sophomore center Chad Filteau (3-8-11) looks to keep developing his play-making ability in the middle.
Bruisin' on the Blue Line...The Pioneers have added depth on the blue line with the addition of two transfers and the return of a medical red shirt. Jordan Ciccarerllo joins SHU for his sophomore year after sitting out last season following his transfer from Clarkson. Will Raynor restarts his freshman year after transferring from UMASS-Lowell with a reputation of being a good open-ice hitter. After going down with an injury three games into last year, 6-5, 225-pounder Bryan Felice returns as a medical red shirt freshman. Freshman Jared Eng joins the defense core from Coquitlam of the BCHL, where he tallied 23 assists. They join return seniors Chris Bailer and Ryan Miniaci, juniors Alex Stuart and Mitchell Stretch, and sophomore Neil Fachini.
Exhibition vs. Ryerson...SHU beat Ryerson 5-4 Oct. 2 at the Milford Ice Pavilion in the team's lone preseason exhibition. The Pioneers and Rams racked up 68 combined minutes of penalties in a physical game. SHU received goals from Eric Delong, Matt Gingera, Tye Lewis, and Alex Stuart. Steven Legatto made 21 saves through the first two periods, but Andrew Bodnarchuk earned the win with 10 saves in the third period.
All-Time Season Openers...The Pioneers look to reverse their fortunes on Opening Night. SHU is 1-16-1 all-time in season openers, last earning a point when they opened to a 1-1 tie at Bemidji State on Oct. 18, 2002. The only time SHU won a season opener was back as a Division II institution, when they beat Scranton 7-3 on Nov. 8, 1996.
Up Next...Sacred Heart travels to Clarkson for two games next weekend, Oct. 14 and 15. Both games start at 7:00 pm.