Merrimack may have lost this past weekend to the resurgent Providence College Friars, but that doesn’t diminish either the Warriors’ strong start or its chances to keep that going all the way through March.
They opened the season taking three of four points from Atlantic Hockey teams and before you shrug your shoulders and say, “So what?” please take note of Hockey East’s record against that league: 1-4-4.
So Merrimack’s win over Connecticut is Hockey East’s only win over the Atlantic in nine games. (Yeah, what were the preseason odds of that ugly statistic?)
Since then, the Warriors have traveled to Vermont and tied the Catamounts, then split a home-and-home with the defending national champion Boston College Eagles.
The thing is, it wasn’t just any old split. Before winning at home, the Warriors gave BC a run for its money on the road, losing 3-2.
“I remember when I was at UMass and there was a large delineation between the bottom five teams at that time and the top four,” Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy says. “Our goal [then] was that you had to get points off the top four every weekend you play them so that you’d have a chance to compete for home ice or at the very least, the playoffs.
“I think the same still holds true. Boston College is far and away the lock favorite for the regular season. To be able to get two points off them is big.”
Making things not only more impressive but also more sustainable is that there’s nothing fluky about these performances. No goalie standing on his head while the team gets outshot 45-15. No one dominant star, carrying an otherwise mediocre cast on his shoulders.
No, not at all. Merrimack competed well territorially with BC, dishing out at much as it took.
“Well, that’s how it’s shaking out so far, but you’re only as good as your last game,” Dennehy says. “I think we have the ability to [compete]. The challenge is always having the will to play as hard as we need to play in order to make that happen.
“I think we came away from [the BC series] knowing we could put two good efforts together against a nationally ranked team.
“We’ve got alot of confidence in our ability, especially at home. What it comes down to is to consistently put a good effort in. That starts in practice.”
Last year Merrimack caught considerable attention dominating at home to the tune of 8-1-0 in the first half and 6-3-1 in the second. The road record was pretty much the flip side of that coin — the Warriors didn’t collect their first win away from home until February — but it was a deceptive flip side.
“Look at where we played early in the year: at North Dakota for two, at Wisconsin,” Dennehy says. “A lot of [our losing road record] had to do with the opponents.
“I think we had BC on the road twice last year. We had BU on the road twice last year. Those are tough places for anybody to go in and get points.
“But once we did get that first road win at Vermont, it parlayed into a couple of wins on the road. The one [at UMass], the one at Providence, and the one in the playoffs against BU.
“Playing on the road is an excuse. If you’re looking for them, they’re easy to find. The ice surface is no different. That’s what we’ve talked about this year, ‘the ice surface is no different.’
“But we don’t have to manufacture the confidence at home, let’s put it that way.”
When asked for the keys to a successful November, Dennehy dismisses the mindset.
“Hopefully the team is doing the same thing that I am,” he says. “I don’t know what our schedule is for the month of November.
“I know we had Providence last Friday and I think they are probably one of the most improved teams teams in the league, if not the country. I know we have BU for two this week.
“But, I’m really more concerned about practice today. That’s probably the key, just not getting too far ahead of ourselves and taking it day by day, game by game, shift by shift.”
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For information about Dave Hendrickson’s other writing as well as his blog about books and the creative life, visit his writing website.
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