By: James Duffy
Last Season: 15-16-6 (8-8-6 in HE, 7th); Lost to New Hampshire in HE First Round
Additions: G Logan Halladay, D Evan Bell, D Dominic Dockery, D Simon Loof, F Jackson Bales, F Logan Drevitch, F Laine McKay
Losses: D Jonathan Lashyn (0G – 6A, 34 GP), F Chris LeBlanc (5G – 10A, 27 GP), F Hampus Gustafsson (15G – 11A, 36 GP), G Collin Delia (9-8-3, .927, 2.15 GAA)
If not for the strength of junior goaltender Collin Delia, the Warriors would have fared much worse than seventh place in Hockey East last season. Delia ended the year ninth in the nation in save percentage, but the anemic Merrimack offense posted just 2.43 goals per game, and the team was bounced in the first round of the playoffs by New Hampshire after posting just two goals in their final two losses.
Now, Delia has his sights set on the pros and signed a deal with the Chicago Blackhawks, forgoing his last year of college eligibility and leaving an already mediocre Merrimack team with a huge question mark in goal. Junior Drew Vogler, who started 16 games last season, should carry most of the load, since junior Craig Patano and freshman Logan Halladay have just one career college game between them. Vogler was less than stellar for the Warriors last year, posting a .897 save percentage, but will have the benefit of a mostly intact defensive corps.
Senior captains Marc Biega and Jared Kolquist lead a blue line that should be a strength for the Warriors. Jonathan Kovacevic, who was fourth on the team with 19 points a year ago, will return for his sophomore season, and freshman Evan Bell is a talented recruit who may be able to make an immediate impact in North Andover. Junior Alex Karle, who played 56 games over the last two seasons, will need to remain durable and dependable as well. Despite the inexperience the Warriors have in goal, their defense has depth and talent that may be able to balance out the loss of Delia.
Up front, the the biggest loss was Hampus Gustafsson, the leading goal scorer from last season. Seniors Brett Seney and Jace Henning should carry most of the load on offense, with junior Ludwig Larsson and sophomore Sami Tavernier likely getting increased roles after strong seasons. Overall though, the lack of high end talent at forward could allow for incoming freshmen to get a crack in the top six. Jackson Bales is the most interesting newcomer. He turned heads last season with the Oakvale Blades of the OJHL by recording 64 points in 51 games, and has garnered praise for his strong skating. The Warriors will also have something of a family reunion, as freshman Logan Drevitch will join his brother Tyler, the sons of Scott Drevitch, a former defenseman for UMass-Lowell.
The Warriors will need to heavily rely on their seven returning seniors next season if they hope to make some noise. Kolquist, Biega, and Aaron Titcomb need to be at their best on the blue line with such inexperienced goalies, and the bulk of their scoring will come from upperclassmen as well. Bell and Bales are intriguing recruits for the future, but aren’t likely to tip the scale this season.
Bottom Line: Dennehy is a capable coach who can make the most of a team without an elite talent. Although the goaltending will be shaky, the Warriors should again find themselves in the middle of the pack in Hockey East. Merrimack has won at least 10 games in seven of the last eight seasons, and that streak should continue this season. They should push for home ice in the first round of the conference tournament, but likely won’t threaten to crack the top six in Hockey East at any point in the year.