Culture Change Underway at Sacred Heart
by Mike McMahon/Staff Writer
C.J. Marottolo admits, from a won-loss perspective, the last few seasons at Sacred Heart have been rough.
The Pioneers finished last season with just two wins (2-30-4) after starting the season winless in their first 24 games (0-22-2) and by season’s end were last in the KRACH. From 2010 to 2013, Sacred Heart won a total of just 18 games, going 18-83-13 (.193) over that span.
But a season-opening win over CHN’s preseason No. 1, Massachusetts-Lowell, has been the catalyst for what Marottolo hopes is a season that will change the culture of his Fairfield, Connecticut program.
“That win over Lowell gives our guys something to look back on and draw from,” he said. “We can point to that game and say, ‘Look at what happens when we play the way we need to play.’ There is an example now. We also had 11 freshmen in the lineup that night, I believe. It was a step in the right direction.”
The Pioneers still only have five wins this season, but four of those have come against Atlantic Hockey opponents.
This fall Marottolo welcomed a huge recruiting class to Sacred Heart, totaling 12 new players that joined a roster with just three seniors; Chad Filteau the only senior to appear in every game.
Freshman Justin Danforth leads the Pioneers in scoring and three of their top seven scorers are freshmen.
Recruiting at one of the nation’s smallest schools – Sacred Heart’s enrollment is about 3,500 – means Marottolo and his staff need to take a different approach.
“We’re well aware that we’re not at a point where we are going to win recruiting battles up against Boston College and BU and UNH,” he said. “One of the things we really vet is a player’s interest in us. We are not only selling a hockey program, we’re recruiting for our school. We need to find players who are a good fit for our community here at Sacred Heart. If a player isn’t interested in our campus and being a part of our university, then that’s not the type of player we want to attract. We’re looking for the right players.”
It’s a strategy Marottolo believes will help change the culture of the program; he has 12 players in this freshman class he says fits that mold.
“It creates an atmosphere where our guys take a lot of pride pulling that Sacred Heart jersey over their heads,” he said. “It trickles down. When you have players who bleed the program and who really love being a part of it, those guys are going to stay involved after they graduate. That’s the type of culture we want here at Sacred Heart.”
It’s a culture he says the administration is behind 100 percent. That wasn't necessarily clear, especially in contrast to the other D-I schools in the state. On the heels of Connecticut announcing a move to Hockey East, and Quinnipiac and Yale playing for last season’s national championship, some began to question the administration’s commitment to the program.
“Our administration is absolutely behind us,” Marottolo said. “We’re always asked what else we need in order to succeed. We’re trying to build a culture here and they are behind. Whether it’s the athletic administration or the university, they’re doing all they can to help us.”
In fact, the surge of hockey in Connecticut is something Marottolo believes will have a positive effect on his program.
Last season’s national title game along with UConn’s investment in its program has the hockey community in the state at a fever pitch. Marottolo is a North Haven, Connecticut native. There’s also more players than ever entering college hockey from the state. And how about a Connecticut tournament featuring the state’s four programs?
“We’re starting to develop a lot of talented players in the state,” said Marottolo, a former assistant at Yale.
The state placed two players on the U.S. Olympic roster. Massachusetts, a former power of hockey development and home to a whopping 10 Division I college hockey programs, has none.
“It’s exciting for hockey in Connecticut,” Marottolo said. “In the end, that helps our program. That gets people in the area excited about hockey and then our job is to attract them to Sacred Heart. We’re really excited about where we are headed.”