(Photo Courtesy Sacred Heart Athletics)
In 2016, which was the freshman year of Max Tuttle and Joe Saggese, Sacred Heart went 2-14. With Tuttle and Saggese helping to lead the way, the Pioneers were able to rise up out of that pitfall and in 2019 put together one of their best seasons in program history. During that historic season, Sacred Heart went 9-6 overall, 5-3 in the NEC, and reached the NEC semifinals.
The first year without Tuttle and Saggese was rough for the Pioneers, as they went 1-5, which included an overtime loss to Stony Brook and all five of their losses coming consecutively, before the season was cancelled due to the Coronavirus outbreak. This program taking a step back following the graduation of two of the program’s best players of all-time was certainly a possibility that many threw around heading into 2020, and wasn’t much of a shock at all.
Now heading into 2021, the question around this Pioneers squad is how can respond? They certainly have the experience and the talent to make at least some noise in the NEC and possibly get back to the postseason.
Offensively, the Pioneers return four of their top five scorers from last season. And they all happen to be, at least listed as, attackmen. Seniors Drew Edwards (13G/3A), Logan Liljeberg (11G/2A), and Jack Walsh (3G/8A) look to lead the way again at the attack spot this spring. Edwards and Liljeberg have been full-time starters and impact players for the past few seasons and Walsh came onto the scene strong at Sacred Heart last season after spending his first two seasons at Stony Brook, where he made a significant impact as a freshman and sophomore.
In addition to those three returning starting attackmen, the Pioneers will return sophomore attackman Carson Spooner (4G/5A) and senior attackman Alec Weiss (4G/4A), who saw one start last season. Redshirt junior Ryan Lindsey (4G/1A) and junior Donovan Lacey (2G), who started three of the five games he appeared in last season, are the Pioneers’ top returners at the midfield spot.
Sacred Heart was ranked 57th in DI in scoring offense at the time the 2020 season was cut short, averaging 9.67 goals per game. They were also 61st in assist per game (4.83). For this offense to move forward and play up to the ability that some of these individual players have shown over the years, they have got to become more diverse. As has been shown in the past, attack heavy offenses rarely work on a consistent basis and will get figured out, especially against better defenses. This midfield unit will need to see more bodies step up and take on a share of the work if Sacred Heart is to have any chance at reviving this offense and even sniffing the success they had in 2019.
Improvement at the faceoff dot will also help unlock this offense’s full potential and could allow them to play more of a run-and-gun style that we have seen from them at times. Last season, Sacred Heart ranked 60th in faceoff percentage (.407). With Jake Giaquinto graduated, sophomores Connor Callihan and Chris Thomas, and Daniel Rodriguez will be battling it out for that top spot. Thomas and Rodriguez saw the most action last season.
Where the most questions and holes for this Sacred heart squad lie coming into 2021 is on the defensive end of the field. First and foremost, the Pioneers lose Brooks Dutton in cage. A four-year starter, Dutton a solid and consistent asset on the back end of this squad since he first arrived on campus in the fall of 2016. They will also lose backup goalie Colton King and one of their starting close defensemen in Austin Pavone.
Despite those holes left by graduation, the Pioneers do return two of their top defensemen in junior Thomas Houlihan (13GB/8CT) and senior Connor Sullivan (18GB/6CT). The duo is expected to be heavily leaned on and really lead the way on the back end this coming spring. Junior Matt Block (11GB/4CT), who was a reserve defenseman last season, could step up into a starting role and make much more of an impact than he has in the past. The same can be said for senior LSM Kyle Foley, who has shown to be a solid option over the past two seasons.