Sometimes the puck sits flat. Other times it bounces around.
Either way, according to Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy, his Warriors are well suited for the game.
Friday night, No. 7 Merrimack grinded out a game along the boards as the puck bounced around the ice and the Warriors pulled out a closer-than-it-sounds 4-1 win over No. 10 New Hampshire to advance to its first Hockey East finals in school history.
“We can play a couple different styles,” Dennehy said. “If the puck is sitting flat, we have skilled guys that can tic-tac-toe it. Other nights you have to grind it out along the boards.”
The Warriors are built for playoff hockey.
Against skilled, quick teams they can play a physical brand of hockey. It’s part of what Dennehy has installed in his six years with the program.
So when his team faced adversity early in the first period, he knew his squad would respond.
Blake Kessel beat Merrimack goalie Joe Cannata from the red line on a dump-and-chase play on a slow rolling puck that bounced over Cannata’s glove. After a review, though, referees determined a UNH player was still lagging and ruled it offside.
“I guess I wasn’t meant to be a shortstop,” Cannata said.
Minutes later, Stevie Moses beat Cannata five-hole.
“Our guys went over and hit his pads,” Dennehy said. “They know we’re here in large part because of him and he ended up saving our bacon.”
That’s when Merrimack’s nerves settled and the squad went back to playing the brand of hockey that’s put them at 25-8-4 and within a game of the Hockey East title.
As Dennehy pointed out, they’ll adapt their game to the opponent. Take Friday’s win, for example, a gritty grind-it-out game over a speedy team.
“Against UNH,” Dennehy said. “That’s the kind of game you want to play.”
It’s a style that’s picked up steam across the Northeast.
“You looked around tonight and a lot of those fans were from the North Andover area,” Dennehy said. “They aren’t connected with the school, they’ve just become fans of us and college hockey. They’ve sort of jumped on our bandwagon, which is plenty big enough.”
So Saturday night, when the small school without a Hockey East title in its trophy case battles perennial powerhouse Boston College, pay attention to the style it plays. Because this group of players feels comfortable in most any game.
“We want to get to our game,” Dennehy said. “We want to play in your face.”