The Sacred Heart Pioneers dominated on all cylinders during their 6-2 win over the Yale Bulldogs -- advancing to the inaugural Connecticut Ice championship game against Quinnipiac.
"I think we have so much depth," Sacred Heart forward Jason Cotton said. "We have so many guys who aren't in the lineup, who bring so much to practice every day and, you know, we have so much depth upfront and in the back."
That depth has propelled Sacred Heart to becoming a first-place team in Atlantic Hockey for a majority of this season. Earlier this season, the Pioneers cracked the USCHO Top 20 poll for the first time in their history.
"I think the difference is my assistant coaches do an unbelievable job recruiting the type of student-athletes we want here," Sacred Heart head coach C.J. Marottolo said. "I think once we made the move into Webster Bank Arena it really elevated our profile."
The home-ice advantage served the Pioneers well against Yale.
"I've been here four years -- that was the most fans I've seen at our games for home," Cotton said.
Those fans haven't had a lot to cheer for in recent years. From 2011-2018, Sacred Heart has never finished higher than eighth in Atlantic Hockey.
"It's been painful at times as we tried to get better every year," Marottolo said. "Every year within the program you want to show growth, and sometimes it's little steps along the way, and I feel the last three years we've shown a lot of growth."
"I think last year around Christmas we really turned the corner and we had a lot of belief in our team, and I think it's carried over into this year."
The Pioneers showed they are real contenders in their first ever Connecticut Ice game. But the team doesn't just hope to show Connecticut they're for real in the Connecticut Ice championship -- they hope to do it in this festival for years to come.
"I think this festival has so much more to grow," Marottolo said. "With the way the event was run tonight and the games, I think the sky's the limit."
"Our guys are really looking forward to the game tomorrow. I don't think it would matter who we were playing, we just wanted to take care of what we needed to take care of tonight. My staff and I will kind of dig in on Quinnipiac."
Sacred Heart faces Quinnipiac at 7 p.m. on Sunday.