“Sacred Heart totally outdid what we thought was imaginable. It’s a real proud weekend for all of us who wish we could’ve played at a facility like this.”
Those are the words of Mike Regan ’04, a Flin Flon, Manitoba, native who skated for the Pios and was part of this weekend’s festivities opening the Martire Family Arena, the most modern and inclusive venue in college hockey.
The opening week of events included well attended varsity, club and alumni contests that served as the grand kickoff to on-campus hockey for Sacred Heart University. Fans walked in from the parking garages through an arena connector branded and decorated in a way that prepares their eyes for a unique college sports experience. On Sunday, when the doors opened, the Zambonis entertained fans with their music and comedic routine.
Both SHU hockey programs played overtime games this weekend. The women beat Harvard 2-1, while the men fell to nationally ranked Boston College 3-2. Both teams had full benches for alumni games – also a pair of one-goal decisions – early in the day followed by arena tours and a reception that featured bubble and air hockey games in the balloon decorated atrium of the West Building.
The most iconic championship hardware fit in well among the dignitaries over the weekend at MFA. The Stanley Cup was on display for fan photos behind a packed student section during a sold-out Saturday night game. On both days, fans received ceremonial towels and tickets as well as neon lit bracelets (that were connected to music) waiting for them at their seats.
The two varsity games also included ceremonial puck drops with Sacred Heart President John Petillo, Vice President Jim Barquinero, Athletics Director Judy Ann Riccio, the Martire Family, both SHU head coaches and the Pioneer captains.
Opening a building like this is a daunting task for any institution. That’s why the university invited all faculty and staff for a happy hour meal last Thursday to test concessions’ food operations as well as crowd control. It clearly impacted the preparation and made for a successful weekend on all fronts.
Fans who missed opening weekend will have plenty more opportunities to see the Pioneers and the arena, which was all over the state’s TV stations and newspapers early in the week following media day. This Friday and Saturday there are four games combined. The SHU men host Holy Cross for a pair of 7 p.m. puck drops, including Connecticut Hockey Foundation night on the second day, while the women play Post at 2 both afternoons.
QUOTES FROM OPENING WEEKEND (gathered by Patrick Pickens ’07)
Michelle Smith, Framingham, Mass.
Lauren Huntington, Prior Lake, Minnesota
“Fabulous. The fact that they have SHU on every little thing. It’s amazing.”
Paul Johnson, Fairfield, Conn.
“I’ve been looking forward to this for three years. We got here early anticipating there might be a lot of confusion, but everything has been smooth.”
Brian Zuckauskas, Fairfield, Conn.
“It’s been a long time coming. The arena is beautiful. We drove up when it was still light outside, and what an amazing-looking structure.”
Matt Troy, BC ’85, Floral Park, N.Y.
“It’s fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. State-of-the-art, bright. Lots of amenities.”
Brendan Troy, ’25, Floral Park, N.Y.
“It’s better than I could have ever imagined. I think it’s beautiful. It’s really nice. I don’t think it’s too flashy either.”
Sam Gustin, ’25, Plymouth, Mass.
“I think it’s really cool that we’re able to put this all together. It’s really cool to see what our school can do.”
Erin Lavelle, ’25, East Longmeadow, Mass
“It’s really exciting to be a part of this huge moment in our school’s history. Being inside [the rink] for the first time and seeing all these people here, it’s really crazy they’re all coming to watch our hockey team.”
Andrew, ’17, New Jersey
“I think it’s a very intimate environment. There’s really no bad seat in the house, and I think it’s very engaging with the fans.”
Camden Fowler, Newtown, Conn.
“It’s great. We saw pictures ahead of time, but when you get in here it’s a lot nicer. It’s really impressive. We’re local to the area, so it’s nice to have a nice rink that’s pretty close to us.”
Pierre-Luc O’Brien, ’07, Nicolet, Quebec
“Now they have all the tools to play with, and now there’s no excuses. They’re in the big boys’ world. They have an NHL facility. Everything you ask for, it’s there.”
Alexandre Parent, ’08, Boisbriand, Quebec
“It’s amazing. It’s beautiful. It’s well-designed. It’s amazing. You almost feel like it’s not Sacred Heart. There’s no words for it really.”
Tony Hwang, CT Senate, 28th district, Fairfield, Conn.
“It’s amazing. It puts Sacred Heart University hockey on the national map. It brings a high level of top-flight competitive, national hockey, and I hope that visitors and recruits alike take note that this is a home for anyone to enjoy premium hockey.”
Chris Affanati, ’03, Chicago, Ill.
“It’s completely amazing. They outdid it. I’m so excited to be here for opening night.”
Justin Danforth, ’17, Oshawa, Ontario (current member of the Columbus Bluejackets)
“The place is phenomenal. It’s first-class, one of the best rinks in the NCAA, so it’s pretty special for me to be back here and see something like this and something that all the alumni are proud of.”
Jason Cotton, ’20, Dallas, Texas (former SHU All-American)
“You see it in pictures, but you finally get to see it in person, and it’s beyond expectations. It’s surreal, and it’s a long time coming for the program, and it’s well deserved. Now I think they’re in a prime position to take advantage and grow as a program and take it to the national stage.”
Noelle Labozzo, MA ’22, Milford, Conn.
“It’s just so nice to see that Sacred Heart is expanding in a way to support their student athletes.”
Isabela Villamil, West Hartford, Conn.
“I saw it a year ago where there was nothing here but mud on the ground. My shoes were dirty, and now to see it come to life it’s unbelievable. I think it’s like a dream. It’s unreal.”
Tommy O’Malley, Head Coach of the Sacred Heart Women’s Hockey Team
“I’ve never been prouder to be part of this university and hockey program. Our team had so much fun this weekend, this is certainly the start of something very special in Sacred Heart hockey.”
Greg Brown, Head Coach of the Boston College Hockey Team
“Awesome. It’s a great rink. They did an unbelievable job here. I got a little tour here [the day before the game], and they didn’t leave out any details. It’s a great place, great atmosphere, the crowd was buzzing. Very happy to be a part of the first game here.”
CJ Marottolo, Head Coach of the Sacred Heart Men’s Hockey Team
“It says a lot when the students come back when they’re not even in school right now. To get that support, to get the community support, it’s a harbinger of what can come with this program. Our guys thought it was electric. I talked to a player who said it was the best college hockey game he ever played in, and a lot of that had to do with the atmosphere in this building tonight.”
Katey Stone, Head Coach of the Harvard Women’s Hockey Team
“This place is amazing. To have the opportunity to come down here and help you open your new building is great. That’s what growing the game means. The building is spectacular. I’m really happy for everyone here at Sacred Heart.”