From 2011 through 2014 and again in 2016, Total Mortgage Arena (formally known as The Arena at Harbor Yard and Webster Bank Arena) served as the home to the Sacred Heart men’s hockey program.
Sharing its home with the Bridgeport Islanders of the American Hockey League, the Westchester Knicks of the National Basketball Association’s G League, and Fairfield’s men’s basketball program, scheduling home games for Sacred Heart was a difficult task.
Factor in the arena booking as many concerts, shows and other events post the COVID-19 pandemic and the Pioneers suddenly found themselves on the road more frequently than at home.
In a difficult season last year, the Pioneers began with 14 of their first 16 games on the road. Sprinkle in a pair of cancelations and Sacred Heart played at home twice in its first 21 games.
Scheduling issues however, are now a thing of the past with the opening of the Martire Family Arena, the new 3,600-seat home of Sacred Heart hockey.
“Twenty-nine and a half years we’ve never played on campus, and to see the students come back, they’re not even at school right now,” Sacred Heart coach C.J. Marottolo said. “To get that support, to get the community support, it’s a harbinger of what can come with this program.”
A $5 million donation by 1969 graduate and current chairman of the board of trustees at Sacred Heart, Frank Martire, and his wife, Marisa, earned them the naming rights to the arena, the project costing $70 million in total.
Martire Family Arena features a standard 85×200-foot NHL ice surface.
“It’s a great rink, they did an unbelievable job here. [We] got a little tour yesterday, they didn’t leave out any details,” Boston College coach Greg Brown said. “It’s really a great place, great atmosphere. The crowd was buzzing. So very happy to be a part of the first game here.”
Prior to the opening of its new home, Sacred Heart would have to bus to Total Mortgage Arena, approximately a 15-minute ride from where Martire Family Arena currently sits on the school’s West campus.
Now, a short walk is all it takes to access the many amenities the building features.
“I just talked to a player and he said that was the best college hockey game he ever played in,” said Marottolo. “And a lot of that had to do with the atmosphere in this building tonight.”
The atmosphere inside Martire Family Arena was outstanding, giving the Pioneers the feel of a true home ice advantage.
“It was a terrific college hockey atmosphere, the fans were great,” Marottolo said. “Our guys fed off the fans. Couldn’t be happier for our university to have a kick off game like this.”
There was one glitch — other than the final score, a heartbreaking 3-2 defeat to Boston College in overtime.
Sacred Heart opened the scoring in the second period. Officials tried to review the play for a high stick, but the video replay system wasn’t working properly. Conner Hutchison was credited with the first goal at the new arena.
The Eagles went on to get the game’s next two goals; Andre Gasseau shorthanded late in the second period and Trevor Kuntar 32 seconds into the third period.
After the Pioneers had several close calls with a few hit posts, Kevin Lombardi tied the game at two, his seventh goal of the season and one that sent the game to overtime.
Sacred Heart’s party was spoiled in overtime by Boston College, Marshall Warren with the game winner.
“That was the battle that we expected and we got. They played great, very sound hockey, didn’t give us anything off the rush,” Brown said. “There wasn’t a lot of free ice out there.”
While Saturday’s end result was not what the Pioneers wanted, the future is bright for Sacred Heart and a state-of-the-art facility like this can do wonders for the program moving forward. The Pioneers have already seen a lift in recent seasons as the program has built towards this day.
“It’s a big game changer for us. Having a facility like this shows the commitment. Players today they want to go to go to programs that are committed to the sport that they love,” Marottolo said.
“In terms of academics. The academics here are terrific and in terms of development, I don’t think you could find a better place to come in and develop as a hockey player.”
After Saturday’s contest with Boston College, the Pioneers will play seven more times inside Martire Family Arena before likely hosting their opening round Atlantic Hockey playoff series. Sacred Heart remains home next weekend, hosting Holy Cross.