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How Merrimack Built Together Through Coach Josh Ciocco

By: Zach Bookman and Maddie Gagliano 

In the 2022-23 season, Josh Ciocco began his fifth year as the assistant coach for the men’s ice hockey program. During his initial season as coach, Ciocco mentored rising sophomore Chase Gresock, who became one of the most thrilling new players in the country, earning honors such as a spot on the Hockey East All-Rookie Team and several weekly accolades. 

Merrimack achieved triumphs over three of the four Beanpot schools, including notable victories over Boston University and Northeastern University, the latter of which ultimately won both the Beanpot and Hockey East Tournament. The Warriors also secured wins against Boston College, who reached the Hockey East Tournament finals, and achieved their first-ever road win against Michigan.

In his second season at North Andover, Ciocco played a vital role in recruiting the Warriors’ 16-player freshmen class, which helped the team increase its win tally by two from the previous year. The group of rookies contributed to almost half of the team’s overall scoring and had three players, namely Zach Uens, Declan Carlile, and Jere Huhtamaa, featured in NHL Central Scouting’s Mid-term Rankings for the NHL Draft. Carlile had a phenomenal season, earning a place on the Hockey East All-Rookie team and being nominated as a finalist for the league’s Rookie of the Year award after registering 22 points as a defenseman, with four goals and 18 assists. 

The season’s highlight was in late February when the Warriors secured a sweep over #15 Providence in a home-and-home series. At the 2020 NHL Draft, Merrimack made history when both Zach Uens (Florida) and Jefferies (NY Islanders) were picked in the fourth round, marking the first time in program history that two Warriors were selected before the fifth round

Ciocco played a crucial role in the success of the program during the 2021-22 season, which was marked by tremendous growth. He was responsible for coaching the Merrimack power play unit, which eventually became one of the top units in the country. The team scored at least one power play goal in 14 consecutive games during the second half of the season, including a “Fake Michigan” goal on Feb. 26 against New Hampshire that became a viral sensation. 

At the end of the campaign, the Warrior power play unit finished seventh overall in the nation and first in Hockey East with a .256 success rate. This played a significant role in Merrimack’s overall record of 19-15-1, which is the second-highest number of victories since the team moved to Division I.

Ciocco worked as an Assistant Coach at Brown University in the ECAC for two seasons before joining Merrimack. During that time, he played a crucial role in producing four All-Ivy League student-athletes, three of whom were second-team honorees, and one ECAC Third Team All-League selection. Brown showed significant improvement during Ciocco’s second season on the coaching staff, with four more wins compared to the previous year, and finishing two spots higher in the league standings at the end of the 2017-18 season.

Before his tenure at Brown, Ciocco spent three seasons as an assistant coach at Alaska Anchorage from 2013-16. He led the program’s recruitment efforts and brought in notable players such as Wyatt Ege, who was named to the WCHA All-Rookie Team, and two-time Most Valuable Player, goaltender Olivier Mantha. 

Before his time at UAA, Ciocco worked as an assistant coach at Milton Academy, while also scouting amateur hockey events for the U.S. Hockey Report. Prior to that, he played for the University of New Hampshire from 2003 to 2007. During his time as a player at UNH, Ciocco served as captain during his senior year and helped the Wildcats reach the NCAA tournament every year.

After graduating from UNH with a bachelor’s degree in political science in 2007, Ciocco played two seasons in the ECHL for the Wheeling Nailers (2006-07) and Fresno Falcons (2007-08). He later obtained his MBA from UNH in 2010 and became an on-air analyst for all televised Hockey East games, including the Beanpot, Frozen Fenway, and the league’s championship game. 

A statement from head coach Scott Borek states, “ This season so far has had Josh’s fingerprints all over it.” Merrimack’s team success has been a testament to the strength and resiliency of the coaching staff and the players. “It’s been a hard road for everybody,” says Merrimack’s captain Ben Brar. “The way everybody has handled such a tragic moment like this and being able to honor him is truly special,” says leading points scorer Alex Jeffries. 

Merrimack men’s hockey as of February 26th is in second place in the hockey standings with a remarkable 47 points with one game remaining. Merrimack’s last home game was their annual senior night. Josh Ciocco’s parents came to support the players that Josh believed in and loved. It speaks to the family and culture that Josh galvanized for this team and program. He has given an ultimate sense of purpose and desire for the Merrimack hockey team. 

What will this team turn out as? Only time will tell but what a spectacular year for the Merrimack men’s hockey team. It’s truly a year that won’t be forgotten in memory of Josh Ciocco.