Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Know Your Enemy: Sacred Heart

Well, it's that time of year again. Each summer, Without a Peer passes the time by taking a look at the opponents on the men's schedule in the upcoming season - one per week. We kick off this year's Know Your Enemy series with a non-conference opponent that RPI handled pretty easily last season on the last day of 2012 - which was certainly good news, considering how long it took this team to register a win last year.

Sacred Heart
Nickname: Pioneers
Location: Fairfield, CT
Founded: 1963
Conference: Atlantic Hockey
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: None
Last Frozen Four: None
Coach: C.J. Marottolo (5th year)
2012-13 Record: 2-30-4 (2-21-4 AHA, 12th place)
Series: RPI leads, 4-2-0
First Game: January 24, 2004 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: December 31, 2012 (Troy, NY)
Last SHU win: November 17, 2006 (Troy, NY)

2013-14 games: October 12, 2013 (Bridgeport, CT); October 19, 2013 (Troy, NY)

Key players: F Chad Filteau, sr.; D Will Rayner, sr.; G Andrew Bodnarchuk, jr.; F Chad Barthelmess, jr.; F Nick Curry, jr.; F Drew George, jr.; F Brian Sheehan, jr.; D Jacob Brightbill, so.; D Josh Phillips, so.; D Matthew Solomon, so.; F Justin Danforth, fr.; F Spencer Graboski, fr.; F Coltyn Hansen, fr.; D David Iacono, fr.

Previous KYE installment:
As bad as 2011-12 was for the Pioneers, 2012-13 was even worse. By every calculation out there, Sacred Heart was either the worst team in the nation last season or the next-to-worst team (Alabama-Huntsville, in their last season as an independent, was the same way). Sacred Heart was 0-26-2 to start the season last year, not picking up their first win of the year until February 19 in a 7-3 victory over Holy Cross, a win which somehow touched off a three-game unbeaten streak that came hot on the heels of 17-game losing streak and the aforementioned 28-game winless streak (which was really 29 going back to the 2011-12 season).

The Pioneers weren't just beaten regularly between October and February, it was frequently by wide margins. SHU lost by three or more goals on 23 occasions overall last season, including 13 times in a row between December and their first win in February. Two years ago, it happened 17 times overall. In the last two years, the Pioneers have a total record of 8-58-7. The Engineers had more wins last year (18) than Sacred Heart has in the last three (14).

That should be enough to underscore just how bad the Pioneers were last season. Heading into February, there was some talk as to whether SHU would even win a single game, and it wasn't idle thought. They finished the season dead last in the nation in defense by almost a full goal per game with a stupefying 5.06 team GAA, and the offense wasn't much better, clocking in 50th out of 59 teams.

So that makes two years in a row that Sacred Heart has been the worst team in the nation with a conference to call its own. But what does the future have in store? There really can't be anywhere to go but up for the Pioneers at this point, but how quickly can they do it? The freshman class doesn't really engender a great deal of optimism, but SHU can at least take heart that in the last two seasons of misery, the class that will be juniors in the upcoming season has been their best group of players for the most part. It's never easy counting on freshmen or sophomores to carry your team, but if there's a glimmer of hope, it's in the fact that the team's best players are gaining experience, even if that experience has generally been loss after loss.

It's worth pointing out that Sacred Heart is 0-15-3 in the month of October since an October 27, 2009 victory over American International, the last time they won in the season's opening month - and both of RPI's games against SHU will be in October (incidentally, they had a 20-win season that year). The games are on consecutive weekends, and the first one represents RPI's first road game against the Pioneers, though it will take place in Bridgeport rather than their usual tiny rink in Milford. It's technically closer to Sacred Heart's campus, but it's unlikely that the RPI contingent of fans would have fit into the usual rink.

It should go without saying - the more experienced core notwithstanding, these are two games the Engineers must win to get the season started on the right track. Anything less is pretty much a disaster. RPI will be heavy favorites in these games, and they should be good confidence builders heading into a non-conference schedule that is almost entirely made up of top squads.

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