The attention paid to this year’s Merrimack team has been so great that coach Mark Dennehy admits his friends are sick of reading about it.
“We’ve got a lot of attention because we’re kind of the darlings right now,” Dennehy said.
The headlines, though, haven’t slowed down the Warriors, who began the second half of the season last weekend with non-league wins at Army and Rochester Institute of Technology. While league play will pick back up this weekend when Merrimack hosts Maine on Saturday afternoon, the Warriors possess an impressive 9-4-4 record, are ranked 17th in the latest USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll and 16th in the current PairWise Rankings.
“We’ve talked about just staying in the moment,” Dennehy said. “Our expectations for our program internally are always going to be higher than those put on us externally. We’ve got our own set of goals and we have to work in the moment and live in the now.
“Hopefully, by the end of the year we’ll have an opportunity to accomplish those goals. You’re not going to win anything in January. You’re just going to take care of business.”
Last weekend, the Warriors took care of business by twice coming from behind. They trailed 1-0 against Army but tied the game in the third and Jesse Todd won it in overtime. Two days later at RIT, the Tigers led 2-1 after one but Merrimack scored four straight sparked by a Karl Stollery hat trick.
Just about everything about the two-game set was a positive, according to Dennehy.
“On the ride home, I’m thinking to myself that we’re on the road, starting the second half and we came back from one-goal deficits against two pretty tough teams,” Dennehy said. “When Army is your first game back you know that you’re not going to be in better shape than them and you’re probably not going to outwork them. So you’re going to have to really grind. I felt that was the game.
“Two days later, we played a team that’s as good at home as any team in the country and probably put together our best 60 minutes. Even though we were trailing 2-1 our guys believed that if we continued to play the way we were playing that we’re not going to be denied.”
It was the first multi-goal game for Stollery, let alone hat trick, and was a major step in what Dennehy considers continued progress by the talented defenseman.
“I was kidding him around that he turned the puck over on [RIT’s] first goal,” laughed Dennehy. “Then he ended up with three goals and an assist that so I told him he actually had five points that night, not four.
“He’s flown under a lot of people’s radar. Since his freshman year, all he’s done is get stronger and play with more confidence. We knew he was a good player from the get-go. He’s a dimensional skater, hard to beat one-on-one.
“What’s really come on for him is the ability to get into the play from the rear. And also, he’s done a better job of managing the power play. He needs to work on one-timing the puck a little more but he’s an ultra competitor.”
Stollery’s ability to jump into the offense is something Dennehy feels is crucial from all of his blueliners. He says that with goals harder than ever to come by, it takes all five skaters to create chances.
“When you’re a defenseman, you don’t have to score but you have to join the rush because sometimes that can open things up,” Dennehy said. “They have to want the puck. We’ve talked about that with all our defensemen.”
Goals will definitely be important as the Warriors return to league play. Despite the solid overall record, Merrimack is just 5-4-3 in league play and currently on the outside looking in for the final home-ice spot. The Warriors are a point behind fourth-place Maine and will host the Black Bears on Saturday before a rare Wednesday evening home game against Boston University.
Dennehy knows that while two non-league wins were nice last week, now the real season begins.
“Games like Saturday and Wednesday go a long way in determining home ice,” Dennehy said. “For us, the season series with BU is tied at 0-0-2. Those tiebreakers come into play.”
Kreider ends World Juniors on high note
It was a bronze, not gold, medal that the U.S. Under-20 team took home Wednesday at the World Junior Championship, so it not have been the finish the team hoped for.
For Boston College’s Chris Kreider, though, it was a very impressive finish. Kreider helped the U.S. cause in the bronze-medal game against Sweden, scoring twice in the 4-2 victory.
The BC sophomore opened the scoring for the U.S., burying a one-time pass from Michigan’s Chris Brown. (Brown joked after the game that a Michigan guy setting up a BC guy isn’t something you see every day.) With the U.S. fate hanging in the balance, Kreider took a saucer feed from former Notre Dame forward Kyle Palmieri and rifled a shot over the Swedish goaltender’s shoulder.
The goals were Kreider’s third and fourth of the tournament, the most of any American. It’s the second straight year that Kreider led the U.S. in goal scoring.
It’s also the second straight year that Kreider and seven of his teammates have earned a medal, having won gold a year ago.
“Personally, it’s a huge honor just to be selected to this team,” Kreider said. “USA Hockey has had some great showings lately and hopefully they can keep that going.”