By Emile Bourgeois
Last year’s record: 15-17-6; Hockey East 13-11-3 (6th); vs NU 2-11
Projected Finish: Coaches Poll 7th; Media Poll 7th
Head Coach: Mark Dennehy
Players Lost: D Kyle Bigos (Assistant Captain), F Josh Heffernan, F Brandon Brodhad, G Nick Drew
Key Newcomers: F Hampus Gustafsson, F Chris LeBlanc, D Craig Wyszomirski, D Jonathon Lashyn
Merrimack is well positioned to build on last year’s strong first half run. Of their four players lost, only two were regular contributors to a team that was in first place in the Hockey East as late as February. However, their lack of offense caught up with them and the Warriors were only able to win one of their last seven games of the regular season, before promptly losing two to Boston University in the quarterfinals.
Merrimack looks to senior center Rhett Bly to help rejuvenate the offense this season. According to the senior, getting to the front of the net will be emphasized this year, which should bode well for a player who has no problem working hard for his goals. Fellow senior Mike Collins will give Bly help, who last year scored 17 goals to lead the Warriors. However, his 17 goals were more than double the total of anyone else on the team. For this offense to find the success they are looking for, they will need at least a few more players to find the back of the net. Through their first four preseason games, sophomore Justin Hussar has scored two goals to lead the Warriors.
On the other end, goalies Sam Marotta and Rasmus Tirronen look to continue their solid play from last year. While coach Mark Dennehy showed he had no quarrel using either goalie, he typically went with Marotta between the pipes. In front of these goalies was a defense that during the first half of conference play was able to carry their lack of scoring. Captain Jordan Heywood looks to improve on a promising junior season where he was second on the team in scoring. He led a unit that had little hesitation joining an odd man rush to help out the struggling offense. The loss of Kyle Bigos will hurt but Merrimack has the depth to replace him.
The incoming players seem to be fitting the mold of the existing team, although that may not be a good thing. According to junior hockey scouts, forwards Chris LeBlanc and Hampus Gustafsson fit the bill for second or third line players, but may lack the ability to find the back of the net enough to help Collins out.
Merrimack kept a large part of their talent from a team that was able to find its way to the top of the standings. Even with their late season collapse, they only finished five points out of first place. If Bly is able to find his way to a few more loose pucks by the net, Collins is able to improve on his impressive junior year and the Warriors are able to clamp down again on defense, this is a team that could challenge for first place in Hockey East. However, if teams are able to shut down Collins and no one can help in the scoring department, they could have some long nights ahead of them.