Mathew Galvao ’17, Sports Editor
Photo Credit: Mike McMahon
The time is here again. The ice is frozen and players have gone through the rigors of what is preseason, fueled by a sub-par performance just a year ago. With almost a whole new roster in front of them, the Warriors are looking to return to form this year.
After a disappointing 2013-14 campaign that saw the Merrimack men’s hockey team only win eight games, they are looking to their new, youth-injected team for some improvement from a year ago. This season Merrimack brings in 10 new freshman to their lineup. These new freshman include five forwards, four defenseman and a goaltender.
“We’re going to be young, we have ten freshman. Over one third of our team is freshman,” said head coach Mark Dennehy. “In order to dress a whole lineup some of them are going to have to play right away.”
“What we’ve been able to do in a short amount of time is really gel as a group of people, they are interested in working for each other,” Dennehy added.
With the amount of freshman that Merrimack is brining into this team some might say that it is challenging to have to coach that many young players. Coach Dennehy believes that it is going to be exciting year coaching wise,
“I think it’s fun,” Dennehy stated. “They bring youthful exuberance and a lot of energy. Their undefeated, they never lost a game and never won a game. But it’s always fun coaching younger players because you can see that room for growth.”
Last season, one of the achilles heels for Merrimack was the lack of scoring. In fact, they only averaged 1.88 goals per game which ranked last in Hockey East and 57th in the nation. The majority of the reason why goals weren’t scored was the lack of players getting in front of the net and also poor defensive play by the Warriors giving up 2.94 goals per game (ranked 39th in the nation).
“As disappointed as I was with our offense, I don’t think we defended the way we needed to and it starts in the net. We need some more consistency there and I think Ras can give us that,” Dennhy said. “Scoring, I think at times it was because we didn’t go to the net and other times it was other reasons like the power play. It was almost like a number of things.” “It’d be hard pressed not to think that we had our chances.”
Some of the offensive troubles could be solved by a couple of the teams upperclassmen. junior Brian Christie who tied for second in points with 14 along with senior Quinn Gould. Senoirs Justin Mansfield who lead the blue line in goals with four and Dan Kolomatis who contributed with eight point of his own.
With the new season and having captain vacancies left by senior Jordan Heywood (’14), Merrimack has named it’s new captain for the 2014-2015 season. The captain will be senior defenseman Dan Kolomatis. Senior Justin Mansfield will don the “A” on his sweater assisting Kolomatis with leading this young squad. The Warriors have always selected their captains through votes from the returning players and who they believe should captain the team.
“Danny is someone that has thrived here. He’s someone that has elevated his game academically. He’s come in and met our standard on the ice and in the classroom, in the weight room. I think what is going to make him a good leader along with Justin Mansfield’s support is that he’s not afraid to call out his teammates if they don’t,” explained Dennehy.
Dan Kolomatis is not one to be in the spotlight but as you can imagine he is thrilled to be able to captain this program. He wants this season to be all about the unit on the ice and nothing else.
“It’s an honor. I’m not one for solo recognition, it’s more about a team and that’s what I’d like this season to go,” Kolomatis said. “Anyone can have the floor at anytime whether it be a freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior.”
Kolomatis looks back to former captain and defensive partner Karl Stollery, for a framework of a good captain.
“I look back to my freshman year, that’s when I was the biggest sponge you’d say with Karl Stollery. He taught me what the standard was, and if you look back on the season we found success early on and throughout the year,” explained Kolomatis. “Those are the standards I’d like to bring back to this program.”
Changes are not only coming on the ice for the Warriors. This offseason they have recently added a new associate head coach in Bill Gilligan. Gilligan replaces Glen Stewart behind the bench who returned to coach at his alma mater, the University of New Hampshire.
“Hats off to Glenn Stewart for al he’s done the past five seasons,” Dennhy said. “I was thinking if we could get Bill Gilligan we would be able to hit the ground running and it’d be a seamless a transition as possible.”
“We know what he knows about hockey, and he is a brilliant hockey mind,” added Dennehy.
Merrimack also had another promotion behind the bench as they promoted Curtis Carr to associate head coach.
Looking into the goaltending this season the Warriors have three net minders and look solid in net. Rasmus Tirronen is returning for his senior year in a Merrimack uniform. The Finland native, played in 25 games for the Warriors last year recording seven wins with a save percentage of .908 and a goals against average of 2.58 with one shutout.
“We thought Ras had a good year last year. He really established himself and was pretty consistent,” stated Dennehy. “We’re confident that with continued improvement, he can elevate his game. He still feels like he’s has something to prove.”
Merrimack also recruited freshman Colin Delia from Amarillo of the NAHL to solidify the goaltending for the Warriors.
“Colin is a great kid. He’s really smart and he had a great season last year,” Dennehy explained. “He’s very good down low and he’s very quick. He’s mechanically sound and handles the puck well. He can compete for minutes right off the bat.”
Rounding out the goaltending is senior Joe Pantalone who provides great depth to Merrimack’s goal crease.
The 2014-15 campaign will be a trying one for the Warriors. The vast amount of freshman will learn the rigors of playing in the top conference in college hockey. The seniors that are sprinkled should help the freshman transition a little less hectic. Ultimately, the main concern for Merrimack is to improve upon their season from a year ago.