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Growing Beyond the Ice: Navigating the Transfer Portal in College Hockey with Merrimack’s Scott Borek

Marcus Antonelli – Sports Editor

The Transfer Portal is a popular topic in college sports today. In the growing landscape of College Hockey, it’s become a prevalent aspect in the construction of a roster. 

For those unfamiliar with it, the Transfer Portal is a database that allows college coaches to access the profiles of student-athletes who are available to moving schools in search of better opportunities in academics, athletics, and even environment.

This offseason, it’s going to be a difficult transition for Head Coach Scott Borek and his Merrimack Hockey Program. He’s losing many veteran players, including eight so far to professional contracts. 

Image via @themackreport

“It’s funny for me, we had a meeting the other day,” Coach Borek told the Beacon, “I look around, it’s the first time in five years where I haven’t had Ben Brar, Liam Dennison, Mac Welsher or Filip Forsmark sitting in front of me, which was scary. They’ve been here with me for a long time.”

bnm2022-23 Senior Night (From L -> R: Ben Brar #18, Liam Dennison #8, Filip Forsmark #28, Mac Welsher #17 and Hugo Esselin #15)

Merrimack had the majority, if not all of their seniors returning for a fifth season after the teams 2022-23 Cinderella campaign. This run secured the program’s first Hockey East Final appearance and NCAA Tournament “berth” (spot in the tournament) since 2011. 

This past season, the Warriors had failed to build on that magical year. A disappointing 13-21-1 record etched itself into the books due to an abundance of injuries that kept an innumerable number of players sidelined. With players now moving on, it’s time to turn the page.

“We’re losing a ton of offense, obviously – we have to replace those points,” said Borek, “I feel really comfortable with some of the guys coming back, their offensive games will continue to grow. But we have to get complimentary players around them.”

This is where the good ol’ Transfer Portal comes in. Many college sports fans aren’t as fond of its reputation, believing that it ruins ‘the traditional’ dynamics of college sports. 

Where student-athletes used to stay at their declared school for all four years, many now depart after just one or two seasons. In some cases, it is better for the player to move on. 

“It’s an opportunity for the players – to look at a different program and I think that’s really good,” said Coach Borek, “When you consider that a lot of these guys make decisions at a young age, maybe it hasn’t worked out exactly how they wanted it to, and they get the opportunity to look at something different. So I can really appreciate that from the player’s side.”

In terms of the coaching staff, there are benefits too. For one, a roster can be reconstructed much faster and more efficiently than traditional recruiting. A team that has lost its key players can fill those voids to a great extent.

“I think we had a difficult year,” Borek noted, “We can go into that portal and try to change our team’s dynamic immediately with older players.”

In a competitive conference like Hockey East, it is necessary to stay afloat with the ‘big dog’ schools. In the case of the Merrimack hockey team, players who work together on and off the ice will help the team compete better.

“We look for guys who wear letters on the sweater (captains). Guys that we feel are leaders in the program,” Borek explained, “The year that we had a really successful transfer portal, four of those five guys had been captains and we’re trying to mirror that again this year, in some way, shape, or form.” 

Borek is referring to his transfer class from the 2022-23 season, where four of five players that transferred in had been in a previous captaincy role. Ottoville Leppanen, Tristan Crozier, Will Calverley and Ryan Leibold all held leadership roles at their previous colleges before transferring to MC.

When presenting these players with the possibility of playing college hockey in North Andover, there isn’t the grand appeal of NIL or the endorsement aspect as there is at other schools. In attempts to market Merrimack, there isn’t a need for ‘fluff.’ 

Two arguments come to mind when negotiating for a hockey player to transfer here: opportunities and success, which go hand in hand. Not every player who transfers gets a chance to play at their new school.

“One of the strongest things you notice in the portal is more than half of the people who go in do not find another opportunity,” Borek told, “And that’s pretty disheartening, to go in and not have an opportunity to come your way.”

Names like Steven Jandric, Max Newton and Jake Furflinger came up in conversation. All three came into Merrimack and had played significantly for the program. Further evidence of what makes Merrimack an attractive choice.

One specific aspect of Merrimack College that makes it a premier destination for transfers is the academic possibilities provided. Coach Borek made it clear to credit Annarita Meeker on this. She is the assistant Dean of Graduate Programs at Merrimack’s School of Business.

“Most of our guys have been business guys, and we have the one year business track for master’s degrees,” Borek tells, “Meeker is a huge selling point for us, just in the way she deals with these players, she makes it feel very accessible. I think that’s unique, it speaks to the size of our school and the talent of that department.”

Many student-athletes in Borek’s program are obviously great hockey players, but they’re also academic weapons. Guys who move on to the professional hockey world are still accounted for with finishing their classes. 

“The key for that, from my point of view, is to try to get them to get it (degree) within two years,” Coach Borek tells, “Because once they go beyond two years, it’s awfully easy to not go at all, then you’re not connected anymore to your academic stuff. So, we’re definitely on them, because it’s good for us if they get it done.”

Zach Uens and Declan Carlile are notable Warrior alumni that are on track to getting their degrees. Johnathan Kovacevic, as an engineering major, completed his schooling recently while playing for the Montreal Canadiens. 

Some players, like recent graduates Ben Brar and Liam Dennison, were able to complete their undergrad early and receive two masters degrees. Hugo Ollas, despite signing with the Rangers, is set to graduate this year. Alex Jefferies, who signed with his drafted team, the New York Islanders, only has a semester to go. 

“All those guys are going to graduate, and that’s another part of Merrimack that I think is unique,” Borek emphasized, “because we’re a small school, it’s the willingness of each department. All these guys have different majors, and they’ve been able to get their degrees for that department.”

These examples of student-athletes academically succeeding on their way to achieving their dreams of playing professional hockey highlight Merrimack’s ability to provide a well rounded college experience. 

“That’s a sleeping part of it, some players don’t even wait to hear about that stuff,” Borek explained, “The players that do give us an immediate advantage, just because we work pretty close with them.”

Scott Borek has some work to do in the coming days. With a roster that has been depleted of its elder core, there are some holes to fill. He informed us that he was set to bring in a few graduate transfers, including forwards Harrison Roy from Lake Superior State, John Jaworski out of Sacred Heart and Antonio Venuto from Ferris State. All have already announced their commitments.

Merrimack’s approach to utilize the Transfer Portal reflects a balance between addressing immediate roster needs and maintaining the program’s values of teamwork, leadership, and academic excellence.

Ultimately, the mission isn’t finished yet. Despite losing a big veteran group, Merrimack fans should expect Scott Borek to make it interesting in these next few weeks.

Stay tuned this offseason! For more coverage on Merrimack Men’s Hockey follow 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!

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