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At Seasons End, Merrimack Hockey bounced in First Round of Hockey East Playoffs

Sports Writer – Pat Casey

Sports Editor – Marcus Antonelli

Photo by Nate Tacey

Boston, MA. – It was a woeful Wednesday night at historic Matthews Arena. 

The 10th seed Merrimack Warriors (13-20-1, 6-17-1 HE) came into the opening round of the Hockey East playoffs against the red hot 7th seed Northeastern Huskies (16-15-3, 9-14-1 HE) with hopes of more fortunate luck to bounce their way. 

That luck didn’t hit at any time, Merrimack lost 4-0 to Northeastern, officially ending their season.

THE RECAP

Merrimack was still without Matt Copponi and Chase Stevenson due to injury. They were the two notable injury omissions left from the lineup.

The game was on and it didn’t take long for the Huskies to break the ice. About three and a half minutes into the first, Alex Campbell scored right off the draw, too quick for Hugo Ollas to catch. The scoreboard read 1-0 Northeastern. 

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“I thought we had to defend too much,” said Merrimack Head Coach Scott Borek, “We really needed that first goal and giving that up was a difficult thing to do. It’s a situation we should’ve been able to handle.”

It was pretty evident from the beginning that the Huskies were buzzing. However after Northeastern scored, Merrimack settled into the game and started to create some chances of their own. They made some good defensive stops as well, 8 blocked shots in the first 20 minutes.

On the first power-play for Merrimack, there was some good puck movement. Despite failing to convert, they were creating opportunities which kept them comfortable heading into the second. 

“I felt that we had some pretty good looks,” said Coach Borek, “I thought we were actually playing really well the first two periods.”

The second period was underway and as projected, Merrimack continued their pressure early on. They were efficient in the neutral zone and it was a notable adjustment from the Warriors. For a while, it seemed to slow the transition game of the Huskies. 

Unfortunately, Merrimack was still unable to find the back of the net and it cost them. About halfway through the second, Northeastern was given time to settle in and it was Vinny Borgesi found at the blue line. A quick shot from the point made it 2-0 at the dog house. 

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“We didn’t challenge them enough,” Borek tells, “I thought we should’ve shot the puck more and we got a little cute and we shouldn’t be, that’s not our game.”

In the later half of the third, Merrimack Defensemen Zack Bookman joined a rush and took a shot into the back of the leg. Northeastern took advantage of numbers the other way while Bookman was clearly maimed on the other side. 

It was 3-0 Huskies and Bookman left the ice with an apparent leg injury. It was the classic cliche type of play that sums up the season the Warriors have had. 

With the score getting away, MC would be hoping the third was not their last. They had some great news to start, Bookman returned to the game despite leaving in the second.

Nonetheless, there wasn’t much to tell here in the final frame. In what felt like a nonstop period, the Warriors did not have enough chances to get themselves back in it. Northeastern controlled the pace of play and as a result, time for Merrimack was running out. So much so that the Dog House (NU student section) was counting down every minute that painfully passed by. 

With the net empty for MC, Dylan Hryckowian put the final nail in the coffin on Merrimack’s 2023-2024 season. Final score 4-0 Northeastern.

NUMBERS TO NOTE

Northeastern won a whopping 31 faceoffs to Merrimack’s mere 14, Justin Hryckowian led the Huskies, winning 15 of 20 puck drops at the dot.

Merrimack dug in defensively and took some bruises. The Warriors amassed 19 blocked shots, with four different players accounting for 3 each (Mark Hillier, Frank Djurasevic, Filip Forsmark and Ty Daneault).

The season series finished at a 1-3 record between these sides. Merrimack won the first game, 4-1, back on October 28th 2023. 

NOT A HAPPILY EVER AFTER ENDING

The MC Men’s Hockey Program took strides last year. They made it all the way to TD Garden and played in the Hockey East Championship game, losing 3-2 to Boston University in overtime. 

Despite that loss, the Warriors clinched their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2011. They would be bounced in the first round to the eventual National Champion Quinnipiac Bobcats. 

In the preseason polls, Merrimack was projected to finish 3rd in the Hockey East and 14th in the National Rankings. 

A huge factor as to why Merrimack was projected so high was because the team received so much of its veteran talent back. For the ‘fifth-year’ guys who wanted another shot at Hockey East glory, they won’t be able to do it again. 

“They did a really good job and it was an honor to coach those guys,” Coach Borek continues, “I feel emotionally guilty with the year we had because they all decided to come back and I didn’t do a good enough job for them to be successful and it kills me.”

What was projected to be a promising season for Merrimack, became one of peril. Injuries plagued the team and while it wasn’t the only factor for some losses, it was a huge factor overall. 

Across all players, 152 games were missed from the team. The most notable omissions from lineup sheets throughout the year included Mike Brown (Top 4 D), Tyler Young (Top 9 F), Chase Stevenson (2C), Alex Jefferies (PPG Leader), Ivan Zivlak (Top 4 D), Christian Felton (Top 4 D) and Matt Copponi (Assists Leader). 

There’s a lot more than those names above, just so you know. 

The Warriors, because of the constant lineup changes every week, had to adjust more than trying to game plan against another opponent. It was a frustrating situation to endure. 

“I love our group. I think that we have a very good group of young men that handled it really well,” said Borek, “But at the end of the day, we just weren’t good enough.” 

No one wanted the season to end this way. No one believed the season would end this way. Despite all the sorrows, Coach Borek and his team will go right back to the drawing board. 

Next year, this team will be younger, hungrier and rejuvenated to bounce back from this year of sorrow. 

Stay tuned this offseason! For more coverage on Merrimack Men’s Hockey follow Pat (@caseykid12) and Marcus (@antonelli7jr) on Twitter (X) for all things Warriors Hockey. Don’t forget to check out the Beacon Newspaper website for articles on games, players, and more!