The teams needed a new home, but Valentine’s options were limited.
This is where Lou Lamoriello enters the story. Long before Lamoriello became the general manager of the N.H.L.’s Devils, Toronto Maple Leafs and Islanders, he was manager of the Yarmouth Indians of the Cape Cod Baseball League in 1967, when Valentine, then 17, was on the team’s roster. The two stayed in touch over their careers.
Valentine, as a newly minted Sacred Heart athletic director, called Lamoriello for advice about hockey facilities. “I was still learning how to spell hockey and A.D. at the same time,” Valentine said.
He had an option to have the team play games at Webster Bank Arena, an 8,500-seat arena in Bridgeport, 15 minutes from Sacred Heart, but he felt the site was too big.
Lamoriello’s advice: “Go into the arena. You’ll recruit better.”
In the four seasons the Pioneers men’s team has played its home games at Webster, its fortunes have changed. All but four of the 29 players on the Sacred Heart men’s roster are from outside New England, with six international players: five Canadians and one player from Denmark.
Sacred Heart’s men’s team was 16-17-4 last season and 18-8-2 in conference play this season, winning the first Connecticut Ice tournament, which included Connecticut, Quinnipiac and Yale, in January.
The men’s team, 21-10-3 over all, was ranked in the top 20 nationally at times this season, and the women (21-11) won 18 of 20 regular-season games in the New England Women’s Hockey Alliance. The Sacred Heart men have never been to the N.C.A.A. tournament, but the Pioneers were considered to have a good chance to qualify this year before it and the Atlantic Hockey tournament were canceled last week because of coronavirus concerns.