After Sunday’s 3-0 loss to Boston University in the deciding game of the best-of-three Hockey East quarterfinals series, Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy wasn’t shy when talking about the expectations for his Warriors this season.
“I don’t know that anybody believed in this team except this team,” said Dennehy. “Any advancement we made as a program is because of them.
“I’ve got a room full of disappointed players.”
Truth is, few did give Merrimack a chance to do anything this season, even after it proved itself a force with a stellar 12-3-1 home record. Pundits picked BU in a sweep. Even once the Warriors controlled most of the series — Merrimack was tied or in the lead for all but the final 15:49 of Friday series opener — not many in BU’s Agganis Arena on Sunday wanted to believe.
Right or wrong, it’s difficult to say that it was Merrimack’s play that caused people to think this team still isn’t ready for prime time. For on Sunday, it was really the performance of the Terriers and goaltender Kieran Millan, who posted a 34-save shutout, that won the game.
That, though, was likely a hard message to deliver to the Warriors. Merrimack fought right down to the very end and its frustration was never more apparent than when Stephane Da Costa (seemingly a lock for rookie of the year) was tagged with a major and game misconduct with 1:14 remaining when the outcome was in the bag.
“It’s too early [to put things into perspective],” said Dennehy. “This team believed it was good enough to get to the Garden.”
But baby steps in growth and development can also be critical. This season, in all truth, has to be considered more than just a small step forward. Merrimack returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2004, posted the most wins since 1993-94, and built a loyal fan base that was apparent among the 3,433 in attendance at Agganis Arena on Sunday.
“This program was in trouble a couple of years ago,” said Dennehy. “It took a special group of kids to bring it back to relevance, starting with the senior class.
“We feel like we’re on some stable ground right now and if [BU] is a team under consideration for the NCAA [tournament], we’ve made up a lot of ground.”