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College Hockey:
Merrimack needs goaltender development to stay in top half

Merrimack will be hard pressed to match its success of the last two years when it posted 16-8-3 and 13-9-5 league records. The Warriors flourished last season despite losing Stephane Da Costa, but the attrition strikes hard this time at all three positions. The loss of All-Hockey East goaltender Joe Cannata hurts most of all.

“Goaltending is the No. 1 concern for every coach,” coach Mark Dennehy says. “The national champs last year [Boston College] hit a rough patch in the second quarter of the season when they were trying to figure out their goaltending situation. Then Parker Milner took the bull by the horns and led them to a national championship.

“You don’t do it without a goalie so that’s the first concern, that’s the second concern and that’s the third concern for any coach.”

That said, Dennehy remains confident that junior Sam Marotta and sophomore Rasmus Tirronen will get the job done.

“I think Joe would be the first one to tell you that the way our team played in front of him had a lot to do with his success and that’s not taking away from the level of goalie that he was,” Dennehy says. “The other thing he’d tell you is that Sam Marotta is a pretty good goalie; Rasmus Tirronen is a pretty good goalie.

“I’m not looking to replace Joe Canatta. Whether we piece this thing together with Sam and Raz alternating or one of them emerges, I’m confident that we’ve got good goaltending.”

On the blue line, Karl Stollery earned second-team All-Hockey East honors for his play in all three zones. He also leaves big shoes to fill.

“I don’t think there’s a player who wasn’t a goaltender who played more minutes than Karl over the last four years,” Dennehy says. “Those are a lot of minutes and that’s a great opportunity whether it’s for Jordan Heywood, Brendan Ellis, Dan Kolomatis or one of the freshmen.

“I like our defensive corps. I think we have some young guys who sat behind Karl that are going to step up.”

Up front, the Ryan Flanigan-Elliott Sheen-Carter Madsen line has graduated along with Jesse Todd and Jeff Velleca. Only junior Mike Collins and sophomore Connor Toomey return among forwards who topped 10 points. Dennehy, however, remains optimistic.

“This team from top to bottom might have some of the best puck skills of any team I’ve coached,” he says. “Whether we score goals or not, who knows?

“Mikey Collins could have a breakout year. Our sophomore class, which got off to a little bit of a slow start but finished pretty strong, [should step up] whether it’s Toomey or Josh Myers or Shawn Bates. Our freshman class isn’t going to be asked to do a lot, but I think they can come in and contribute.

“I don’t think we’re going to stray too far away from what we’ve been doing over the last three or four years. If anything, we might get a little more aggressive.”

About the Warriors

2011-12 overall record: 18-12-7

2011-12 Hockey East record: 13-9-5 (fifth)

2012-13 predicted finish: Jim: seventh; Dave: ninth

Key losses: G Joe Cannata, D Karl Stollery, F Ryan Flanigan, F Jesse Todd

Players to watch: F Mike Collins, D Jordan Heywood, G Sam Marotta

Impact rookie: D Sean Robertson

Why the Warriors will finish higher than predicted: Over the last couple of years, they’ve developed the confidence and mind-set of winners. They expect to win.

Why the Warriors will finish lower than predicted: You can only lose so much talent before seeing a drop in results. In particular, goaltenders Sam Marotta and Rasmus Tirronen couldn’t budge Joe Cannata from the crease for more than one total decision last season.

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