Worcester, MA- Sacred Heart enjoyed the most successful season in program history in 2019-20. The Pioneers eclipsed the 20 win plateau, earned a first-round bye in the Atlantic Hockey Playoffs, and announced the opening of a new on-campus arena. While there wasn’t the opportunity to make tournament noise, CJ Marottolo and the Sacred Heart Pioneers eagerly looked to build on their momentum in the 2020-21 season. After a series of practice and game delays, 282 days after their last game played, the Pioneers finally began their new campaign on Friday night against the Holy Cross Crusaders in Worcester.
Holy Cross had game legs early and put Sacred Heart on their heels. The Crusader’s legs earned the game’s first goal midway through the first period. Ryan Leibold notched his second goal of the season at the 11:56 mark of the frame for a 1-0 Holy Cross lead.
Sacred Heart woke up in the second, aided by a pair of Holy Cross penalties. Only 1:34 into the stanza, Frank Boie took an interference minor. As his penalty wound down, Ryan Steele recorded the first Pioneer goal of the season. Later in the period, Grayson Constable took a tripping minor. At the 9:34 mark, Marcel Godbout punched home his first goal of the season to stake the Pioneers to a 2-1 lead.
Josh Benson took center stage in the SHU net for the third period. Holy Cross outshot Sacred Heart 12-7 in the final period and controlled the pace of play for the frame’s duration. Still, Benson stopped all 12 of the Crusader’s third period shots and secured the 2-1 victory in the Pioneer’s first game of the season.
“We were not ready for Holy Cross’s speed early,” observed Pioneer Head Coach CJ Marottolo after the game. “But I’m really proud of our guys for battling through to the end.”
Marcel Godbout earned a goal and an assist, his first points since scoring two goals against Mercyhurst in a 9-3 win on January 11th.
Ryan Steele scored a goal and an assist as well, his eighth career multi-point game.
Braeden Tuck, last year’s Atlantic Hockey Rookie of the Year, recorded assists on both SHU goals.
Josh Benson’s 38 saves are a career high, topping his 36 save effort from last season’s win at Agganis Arena against Boston University.
The Pioneers and Crusaders will rematch on Sunday afternoon at 2 PM ET to complete the weekend set. “We have a lot of tired hockey players,” commented Marottolo. “We need to get a lot of rest before Sunday.”