Sacred Heart opens Martire Family Arena with sold-out crowd for overtime loss to Boston College

“Our guys thought it was electric. I talked to a player who said it was the best college hockey game he ever played in.”

FAIRFIELD — The puck went in the net, the celebration was on, but naturally there’d be some kind of holdup to actually putting the first goal on the scoreboard.

This was opening night for Martire Family Arena, after all, Sacred Heart’s first on-campus home for hockey and figure skating. It was long-dreamed-of, long-planned, long-coming, two or three years away for a couple of decades.

But this time it stuck. In front of a packed-house crowd of 4,103, the Pioneers opened their new arena on Saturday with a men’s hockey game against Boston College, and Conner Hutchison had the first goal in the building’s history, 2:07 into the second period.

“It was a pretty unique feeling, I think. We were wondering who’ll score the first goal,” said Hutchison, a sophomore defenseman from Long Island. “You want to be that guy.

“I just got fortunate enough, took a shot from the point, and it went in. It was an unbelievable feeling. I blacked out during the celebration; I don’t even know what I did. Unbelievable.”

Boston College spoiled the party, winning 3-2 in overtime. It only dampened things a bit.

“It’s the realization of a dream, basically,” Sacred Heart coach C.J. Marottolo said. “We’ve talked about this for a long time. To have something like this, it’s beyond my wildest dreams.”

Marottolo talked earlier in the week about how the building will help recruiting, how already it sealed the deal for one recruit who might otherwise have shopped around.

Hutchison said he likes the team’s locker room, with stalls set up in an oval, so every player can see each other.

The men’s and women’s teams had played out of different arenas around the region, the small ones like Milford Ice Pavilion and the big ones like Total Mortgage Arena, the 8,000-seat home for the men’s teams the past few seasons where they rarely drew big crowds.

The feeling in this more-intimate building was different.

“Everyone had chills, even just going out for warmups,” Hutchison said. “It was unbelievable.”

Assorted Pioneers dignitaries, including the Martire family, Marottolo and women’s coach Tom O’Malley and the two team captains, dropped pucks at center ice in a pregame ceremony.

The Columbus Blue Jackets’ Justin Danforth, the first Pioneers product to play in the NHL, was in the house. So was Jason Cotton, the first Pioneer to sign an NHL contract. So were a couple of hundred other alumni.

And so was the Stanley Cup, on the concourse for fan photos on Saturday.

The Pioneers women will play their first game in the arena on Sunday at 3 p.m. against Harvard. They’ll also be home on Jan. 20 and 21 at 2 p.m against Post University, with men’s games both nights at 7 against Holy Cross.

“For 29 and a half years we’ve never played on campus,” Marottolo said. “To see the students come back – they’re not even in school right now – that kind of support, the community support, it’s a harbinger of what can come with this program.

“I can tell you,” he added, “our guys thought it was electric. I talked to a player who said it was the best college hockey game he ever played in.”

Boston College (9-6-4), ranked 20th in one national poll and 19th in the other, took a 2-1 lead on the first shift of the third period. Sacred Heart (11-9-1) tied it with 12:33 to go on Kevin Lombardi’s redirection. Marshall Warren won it for the Eagles 61 seconds into the extra period.

“It’s a great rink. They did a really good job here,” Boston College coach Greg Brown said.

“Great atmosphere. The crowd was buzzing. We’re very happy to be a part of the first game here.”

The parties in the suites were still going an hour after the game.

“I couldn’t be happier for our university to have a kickoff game like this,” Marottolo said. “We’re certainly not happy with a tie game. Our expectation is to win these kinds of games.”