By: James Duffy
Head Coach – Mark Dennehy, 12th season
Last Season – 13-19-7 (5-10-7 in Hockey East, 7th); Lost in second round of conference playoffs to Providence College
Losses – F Craig Wyszomirski, F Brian Christie, F Ben Bahe, F Justin Hussar, F John Gustafsson, D Matt Cronin, G Joe Pantalone
Newcomers – F Tyler Irvine, F Logan Coomes, F Cole McBride, F Patrick Kramer, F Tyler Drevitch, F Sami Tavernier, D Shawn Brennan, D Johnathan Kovacevic
For the fourth straight season, Merrimack ended the year with a record below .500. They opened the season at a torrid pace, going 7-1-4 through 12 games before losing 12 of their next 14 games in the stretch that defined their season. In the Hockey East Tournament, the Warriors beat New Hampshire in three games, but ended up being swept by Providence to end their season.
Entering this season, Merrimack has some major holes to fill on offense. Graduates Brian Christie, Ben Bahe and Justin Hussar were some of the team’s best scorers last season, combining for 25 of the Warriors 95 goals on the season. The only loss on the blue line is Matt Cronin, who played 22 games in his senior year. Pantalone was a non-factor in net, appearing in just one game last season. In addition to scoring, Merrimack also lost leadership. Christie was the team captain, and the other six seniors were important locker room presences.
As five forwards graduate though, six freshman forwards will be coming to North Andover. Center Cole McBride comes to Merrimack with the best record after posting 66 points in 58 games with the Camrose Kodiaks of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. They also welcome in Sami Tavernier, who won silver with Finland in the World Junior Classic last year. Tavernier most recently played for the Topeka Roadrunners of the North American Hockey League, racking up 24 points in 30 games.
Johnny Kovacevic might be the most interesting newcomer for Merrimack. The 6-foot-4 defenseman brings size and offense to the Warriors blue line. He played in the Central Canada Hockey League last season, netting six goals and adding 20 assists in 30 games. He ended up 9th in the league in scoring for defensemen, and could develop into a strong defenseman for Merrimack.
The Warriors seemed poised to stay towards the middle of Hockey East this season. While they did lose some scorers, they also retained Brett Seney and Hampus Gustafsson, their leading contributors from last season. The defense from last season also remains mostly unchanged, and Collin Delia will be back in net for his junior season.
Delia is the X-factor. In his freshman year, he was one of the most dominant goalies in the nation, posting a .937 save percentage and allowing less than two goals per game. He suffered a major sophomore slump last season, and the Warriors will need him back in form if they want to compete for home ice in the first round of the Hockey East Tournament.
Bottom Line – Merrimack will float between 5th and 7th place in the conference. They’ll live and die by Delia and the defense this season, especially considering that the offense is not quite as potent as it was a year ago.