BRIDGEPORT, Conn. -- A few months ago, Sacred Heart senior forward Jason Cotton said in 50 years he had hoped he could look back on his collegiate career with the Pioneers crowned as champions of the inaugural Connecticut Ice Festival.
Cotton's dream came true Sunday, and he earned Connecticut Ice MVP for his goal and assist in Sacred Heart's 4-1 win over Quinnipiac at Webster Bank Arena.
"Overall, I think going home tonight and just thinking about it -- it's going to be a lifetime memory," Cotton said.
After entering the second period down 1-0, the Pioneers (16-8-2) scored three unanswered goals to defeat No. 17 Bobcats (14-8-1).
"Just from where this program was and where it is now, it's unbelievable the growth," Cotton said. "Not only the guys in the locker room, but the senior classes before us. And before them, they came in and they left a jersey in a better place than where it was. And for us, when we walk through those doors, that's what we think about."
In addition to the Connecticut Ice throne, Sacred Heart announced Saturday that it would build its own arena -- a 4,000-seat venue for $60 million on the university's Fairfield, Connecticut, West Campus.
With momentum from a weekend that saw the Pioneers knock off Yale in Saturday's 6-2 win over the Bulldogs (9-10), head coach C.J. Marottolo did not mince words when discussing the program's trajectory.
"I would say that this would be the top of where we are for this group," Marottolo said. "When I was an assistant coach, we won some ECAC championships and those are cool to do, but I would say that this would be right up near the top -- if not the top -- because playing in an environment where you have four Connecticut schools, it's the first. So that probably puts it right over the top."
Those other four Connecticut schools have had a lot more success in recent years than Sacred Heart.
Yale, which the Pioneers beat by four goals in their first Connecticut Ice game, won a national championship in the 2013 Frozen Four.
UConn has had many solid wins in Hockey East -- a top conference in the country -- and Quinnipiac went to the Frozen Four championship game in 2013 and '16.
"This would be right up near the top, if not the top"- SNY (@SNYtv) January 27, 2020
Sacred Heart HC C.J. Marottolo says winning the Connecticut Ice championship is a special career moment @SHUHockey #CTIce pic.twitter.com/wThNw9DEHw
"It's nice to have the underdog kind-of win," Cotton said.
Entering the 2019-20 season, Sacred Heart had a 115-217-40 record since 2009 when Marottolo took over as head coach.
The Pioneers have turned things around, though, putting together an impressive resume through the end of January.
Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold gave due credit to Sacred Heart under the direction of Marottolo.
"The best part of the night was Sacred Heart's celebration, it was awesome, it was great," Pecknold said. "Those kids wanted it. They wanted this win. It's not like Atlantic Hockey teams never beat ECAC teams, but we're a top-20 team. That's a big win for Sacred Heart and they deserve it.
"It was awesome to see that celebration, that energy, that enthusiasm, and that passion, and that's what we need to take away from the game. You need to have that passion for 60 minutes and really dig-in if you want to win a hockey game."
At the start of a new decade in 2020, perhaps the same could be said about a new era for the Pioneers. Sacred Heart enjoys the Connecticut Ice championship win this week before returning to action with Friday's 7:05 p.m. game against Air Force (8-12-4).