October 17, 2013

Atlantic Hockey: Sacred Heart off to stellar start

By Allen Lessels

Drew George leads the Pioneers with three goals through three games.

It took Sacred Heart a full season to win two games last season.

A young Pioneer team did it in the span of three games this time around.

Sacred Heart went on the road and stunned UMass-Lowell, the No. 1-ranked team in the country, 2-1, to open the season with what folks at the school are calling the biggest win in the program’s history.

The Pioneers then opened the Atlantic Hockey portion of their schedule in fine fashion, too, with a 3-1 win at home over Bentley on Wednesday.

The Bentley victory put Sacred Heart at the top of the league standings, tied in the very early going with Niagara, which outlasted Canisius, 6-4, in the first league game of the season.

Junior goalie Alex Vazzano, a transfer from Vermont, was outstanding in both Sacred Heart wins. He stopped 72 of the 74 shots he faced over the two games.

Junior forward Drew George led the way offensively. He scored the team’s first three goals of the season, the two against Lowell and the first one against Bentley.

Sacred Heart gained some steam with George’s power play goal less than four minutes into the Lowell game.

“We got off to a good start and getting that early power play goal gave us some confidence,” said coach C.J. Marotollo. “Alex made some good saves and we were playing our game. Guys were in the moment and there was a lot of positive talk on the bench and they were enjoying it.”

Lowell finally got a goal to tie it at 4:24 of the third period.

George scored again less than a minute and a half later.

“I’m sure everyone in the building felt, ‘Here they come,’” Marotollo said. “For this young team to respond with a goal like that was a huge moment for our hockey team. Some teams might have unraveled in that situation. We had an answer.”

It was a couple of juniors who answered. Ben Lake won a faceoff and had an assist on George’s goal.

“Those are guys who have been on teams that have struggled,” Marotollo said.

Lowell is the highest-ranked team the Pioneers have beaten since a 7-6 win over No. 8 Yale on Nov. 22, 2011.

The River Hawks were one of the best teams in the country last season. They finished with a 28-11-2 record and advanced to their first Frozen Four where they lost to eventual NCAA champion Yale in overtime.

Sacred Heart was 2-30-4 last season and the Pioneers did not win their first game until Feb. 19 and they won their second on Feb. 23.

Nine freshmen have played in each of the first three games and 11 have played total.

Now Sacred Heart will go looking for a little payback.

After the win over Lowell on Friday night, the Pioneers returned home and played Rensselaer on Saturday afternoon. Sacred Heart lost in a 6-0 game.

They are at Rensselaer for a rematch on Saturday night.

Player of the Week

Alex Vazzano, G, jr., Sacred Heart

Vazzano (Trumbull, Conn.) made an impressive Pioneer debut and followed it up with another huge game in his second outing. The transfer from Vermont stopped 35 of 36 UMass-Lowell shots to lead Sacred Heart to a 2-1 upset of the nation’s No. 1 team in the season opener. He then stopped 37 of 38 shots in a 3-1 win over Bentley on Wednesday night.

Games of the week

Niagara at Robert Morris, Saturday

The Purple Eagles and Colonials are the only league teams facing each other this weekend. They will also meet on Feb. 14 at Niagara and Feb. 15 back in Erie. Niagara won the first two games in last year’s series and Robert Morris won the last, 6-5 in overtime in Erie 6-5 on Feb. 16.

Power Rankings

1. UConn (0-0-0, 0-0-0) . . . The Huskies open the season with games against Minnesota State in Mankato on Friday and Saturday. UConn follows the trip with five home games. The Huskies play Union on Oct. 25 and face Army on Nov. 1, Sacred Heart on Nov. 2, Holy Cross on Nov. 12 and Bentley on Nov. 15.

2.Sacred Heart (2-1-0, 1-0-0) . . . Junior forward Drew George scored a pair of goals and Vazzano made 35 saves to lead the Pioneers to arguably the biggest win in the program’s history over Lowell. The Pioneers then matched their win total from last year with Wednesday’s 3-1 triumph over Bentley.

3. Niagara (1-2-0, 1-0-0) . . . Down 4-3 late in the second period, the Purple Eagles got shorthanded goals from Chris Lochner and Ryan Rashid in a span of less than three minutes between the end of the second period and beginning of the third to take the lead from Canisius on Saturday. Niagara went on to a 7-4 win.

4. Canisius (0-1-0, 0-1-0) . . . Things were going quite nicely for the defending Atlantic Hockey tournament champions against arch-rival Niagara. Then they weren’t. The Griffs scored a shorthanded goal and two power play goals in the first 11:02 of the first period for a 3-0 lead. The teams traded goals, but Niagara ran off the next five after that.

5. Holy Cross (0-1-0, 0-0-0) . . . The Crusaders pulled within a goal of Boston University on an Adam Schmidt goal four minutes into the third period, but could get no closer and fell, 3-2. Holy Cross, which did not play a Hockey East team last year, faces Northeastern at home on Friday and is at Northeastern on Saturday.

6. Mercyhurst (0-3-0, 0-0-0)  . . . The Lakers lost a pair of games in the Ice Breaker at Minnesota, 6-0 to the host team and 5-2 to Clarkson, and lost at home, 3-2 to Ferris State on Tuesday. Sophomore defenseman Anthony Mastrodicasa played 27 games last year and had five assists total. He scored both Mercyhurst goals in Minnesota.

7. Bentley (1-2-0, 0-1-0) . . . Freshman Max French scored a pair of goals, one shorthanded and the other on the power play, to lead the Falcons to a 6-4 opening win at Nebraska-Omaha. French’s shortie was one of two Bentley scored in the game. Sophomore Derek Bacon had the other.

8. RIT (0-2-0, 0-0-0) . . . The Tigers were excited about the opportunity to host Michigan in Rochester and the two teams put on a show in Blue Cross Arena. Michigan exploded for four goals in the first period and threatened to make a dud of the event. RIT responded with four straight of its own in the second before the Wolverines triumphed 7-4.

9. Air Force (0-2-0, 0-0-0) . . . The Falcons, thanks in part to problems on special teams, had a rough go of it in Alaska on their opening weekend. In a 6-1 loss to Alaska and 4-2 setback again Anchorage 4-2 they were a combined 0-for-12 on the power play while their opponents went 3-for-7.

10. Robert Morris (0-2-0, 0-0-0) . . . The Colonials dropped a pair of 3-1 games at Lake Superior State to open the season. They play Niagara at home on Saturday in their league opener. Robert Morris finished in fifth place in the regular season last year, two points behind UConn.

11. AIC (0-0-0, 0-0-0) . . . The Yellow Jackets will be the last Atlantic Hockey team to play when they open the season at No. 10-ranked Providence on Saturday. The Friars beat Minnesota State, 5-1 and 3-0, to move up in the polls. AIC plays its first league game at home against Sacred Heart on Oct. 26.

12. Army (0-1-0, 0-0-0) . . . Junior defenseman Mac Lalor (Needham, Mass.) scored a power play goal with 4:21 to play to cut Penn State’s lead to two goals, but the Nittany Lions came up with an empty net score to nail down a 4-1 win. Army is off now until a game at Merrimack on Oct. 26.

Twitter: @AllenLessels
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