Merrimack expects to have to change style, but not ‘blue-collar’ ways

Stephane Da Costa, Stephane Da Costa, what’ll Merrimack do without Stephane Da Costa? The refrain has been repeated so many times, it sounds like schoolyard singsong performed while jumping rope.

Yet the fact is that Da Costa scored all of one goal after the first weekend in February last season. He drew attention, to be sure, and set up a good number of others’ goals, but this team was never Da Costa and a bunch of pylons.

“We had a junior line last year of Ryan Flanigan, Carter Madsen and Elliott Sheen that was probably our best line the end of the year,” Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy says. “We’re finally on a normal development model where our sophomores are taking a step and our juniors are taking a step. I think we’ve got a lot of underrated players. That’s fine. We’re a blue-collar team.”

Well, maybe, as long as you call All-Hockey East honorable mention honorees Joe Cannata and Karl Stollery “blue collar.”

“I don’t know if there is a defenseman that plays more minutes than Karl,” Dennehy says. “I think we’ve got the most underrated goalie in the country. People just take Joe for granted. All he does is win games.”

With teams perhaps game planning against Merrimack differently this year, Dennehy expects a possible stylistic switch.

“We’ll probably tighten things up a little bit more than we did last year,” Dennehy says. “Goals came a little bit easier than they’ve ever come for us. I think at times maybe even I got intoxicated with it and let us play [wide-]open hockey. We’re going to probably have to work a little bit harder for our goals, but [I’m confident because] we’re as deep as I think we’ve been.”

About the Warriors

2010-11 overall record: 25-10-4

2010-11 HEA record: 16-8-3 (fourth)

2011-12 predicted finish (coaches poll): Fifth

Key losses: Forwards Stephane Da Costa, Chris Barton and Joe Cucci; defensemen Adam Ross and Fraser Allan

Players to watch: Goaltender Joe Cannata; defensemen Karl Stollery, Jordan Heywood and Brendan Ellis; forwards Jesse Todd, Ryan Flanigan, Mike Collins, Carter Madsen and Elliott Sheen

Impact rookie: Josh Myers

Why the Warriors will finish higher than the coaches poll: They aren’t going away just because Stephane Da Costa turned pro. There’s still a lot of talent on the roster.

Why the Warriors will finish lower than the coaches poll: Call it a Magical Season hangover or that there’s a bigger bull’s-eye on their jerseys. Either way, repeating is tough.