Sabato Scores 6 Points as Pioneers Win SECHL Championship

Pioneers knock off RPI to win sixth SECHL title in final year in the league.

John Fiorino, Entertainment Editor

WAYNE, N.J. – William Paterson’s men’s ice hockey team won their sixth Super East Collegiate Hockey League title on Sunday afternoon by a score of 6-2 over Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Danbury, Connecticut.

The difference maker in this one was the offense. One of the highlights of the game was when the Pioneers scored three goals in as many minutes in the second period. At the time, it would give William Paterson a 4-0 lead. William Paterson forward, senior Deejay Sabato, would go on to collect four goals and a total of six points, factoring in on every Pioneers tally.

“I’m glad I was able to have a big game in a big spot here,” Sabato said. “James Karp, Thomas Bauer and James Bobb made life real easy for me and they probably make me look better than I am.”

RPI trailed early when the Sabato struck in the first minute of the game. Despite the early goal, the Engineers failed to capitalize on the few opportunities William Paterson gave them. The comeback did not get any easier for RPI. For the second time in back to back nights, the Pioneers had a span where they did not allow a shot on goal for 10 straight minutes.

“It starts with our defenseman being aggressive and taking their one on one battles with pride followed by our forwards applying good back pressure,” Head Coach Joe Ballance said. “It’s a team defensive effort and we are doing a good job with it.”

Furthermore, William Paterson played a near perfect game. It was not until the final three minutes of the contest when the Pioneers took their first penalty. The discipline factor is an aspect of hockey that can be overlooked by the casual fan. By not taking many penalties, William Paterson gave their opponents a tough time trying to generate scoring opportunities. The Pioneers tend to use their strong mentality to their advantage.

“It may be the most important aspect of our game,” Ballance said. “If we can continue to do that, we are a difficult team to play against.”

This league title meant more to the Pioneers than some past ones did. At the conclusion of the Nationals tournament in Columbus, Ohio in March, William Paterson will make the move to American Collegiate Hockey Association Men’s Division I. There they will join Eastern Collegiate Hockey Association as announced by the team in a post on their website. In the 2017-18 season, they not only won their final SECHL championship but proved that they were ready for the next level of competition by ending their season a perfect 16-0 against league opponents.

“Leaving the SECHL on top was everyone’s goal,” Cory Sala, captain, and senior defenseman said.

This was no new stage for Sala. The defenseman has been in the league championship game every year he has been a part of the organization dating back to the 2014-2015 season. As the current captain, he found himself in a role that he handled with pride. He was one of the main voices of the organization and made sure the younger players were stable.

“We told everyone that hockey games are a roller coaster and emotions are flying everywhere, especially in a championship setting,” Sala said. “We stayed calm and it showed in the end.”

While the young men can enjoy the victory, they know that they’re not done yet. The Nationals tournament starts in two weeks and there is prep to be done if the Pioneers want to make a deep run. Tuesday, Feb. 20 marks the first practice back from Connecticut and the team has their eyes set on what matters most. Head Coach Ballance will use this win for “momentum and confidence” going into the upcoming tournament.

William Paterson has the no. 1 ranking in the Northeast section of the bracket. While a 27-2 record in the regular season and a SECHL championship are strong accomplishments, it won’t mean much without bringing home the trophy from Ohio.

“When we’re flying out on the ice, we believe we’re the best and we plan to prove that in Ohio two weeks from now,” Sabato said.