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Sacred Heart capped off a perfect week on Sunday with a 4-2 win over Robert Morris, claiming all nine possible points to lift the Pioneers to the top of Atlantic Hockey.
The Pioneers came in at No. 20 in Monday’s USCHO Poll, and now with 30 points on the season, they hold a three-point buffer over second-place Army as they head into their semester break.
Confidence was high following an impressive 4-0 shutout over a high-powered Boston University team on Nov. 26. A week later, the Pioneers came away with another Tuesday victory over Atlantic Hockey rival American International.
A three-goal first period and helped carry the team to a 4-2 win over the Yellow Jackets for their third straight victory. Eleven different players recorded a point in the win.
“We feel our depth is our greatest strength, and the guys find a way to create their own identity on each line,” Pioneers coach C.J. Marottolo told Dan Rubin of USCHO.com last week. “Each line has a guy that can score, another guy who can go get the puck, and a guy who can make a play.”
That depth continued to shine during the sweep of Robert Morris over the weekend, where 10 players recorded a point in Saturday’s 6-0 win before another seven recorded a point in Sunday’s 4-2 win.
Seniors Mike Lee — tied second in DI defensive scoring with 21 points (2 G, 19 A) — and Austin McIlmurray each posted three-point nights, Saturday combining for two goals and four assists. On Sunday, senior Jason Cotton — tied first in DI goals with 13 — was in on all four goals with a hat trick and an assist.
With eight wins over the past nine games, the Pioneers have been among the hottest teams in the NCAA and have improved their overall record to 11-6-1 following a 0-3-1 start to the season.
Since then, the seniors have sparked the offense, as the Pioneers now have the third-highest goals-for total in DI hockey. Supported by the nation’s third-best power play, scoring has been in excess as the team consistently controls play in every situation.
Last season, the Pioneers finished the year with three double-digit goal-scorers and four 20-point players. Just halfway through the season, Marottolo’s squad already has three double-digit scorers — there are currently only 12 in all of DI — and six players at or above 15 points.
The surge has stemmed from the aforementioned seniors, who appear to be on a mission, one that is on a trajectory to end with an Atlantic Hockey title and the first-ever National Tournament berth in program history.
But there’s still a lot of hockey to be played and there’s not a great track record for teams that rely on outscoring their mistakes.
That’s where the youth comes in — where the seniors are bearing the load up front, sophomore Josh Benson has locked down the crease.
With just five goals allowed over his past five games, Benson has raised his season stats to a .920 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average. He is tied for third nationally with three shutouts and is staying focused with only Jeremy Swayman of Maine having played more time for his team than him this season.
Benson, the seniors, and the rest of the Pioneers will look to pick up where they left off when they get back to action for a Dec. 28-29 series, where they’ll host Bentley (7-9 overall) to kick off the second half of the season.
Have a question or a comment for Jacob Messing? You can find him on Twitter @Jacob_Messing.