Marcus Antonelli – Sports Editor
NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. – Last we talked to each other during the winter break of 2022-23, I told you how these Merrimack Warriors sat comfortably at 5th place in the pairwise (One of the hottest teams in the nation) at a stellar record of 14-3-0. One year later, the team is not exactly back in that position. Merrimack has an overall record of 6-9-1, which sits them at 31st in the country and 10th out of 11 teams in the Hockey East with a conference record of 2-5-1.
So you’re probably asking yourself, what happened?
The Warriors came into the season having two situations that weigh a lot on a smaller hockey school. Losing an abundance of graduate players and high expectations. Merrimack lost seven notable upperclassmen and was projected as high as 14th in the preseason pairwise rankings. With that, Coach Scott Borek and his staff found themselves plagued by the injury bug that changed the roster in some way each weekend.
These two reasons forced the team to turn to their freshmen and younger talents to step up into roles that weren’t normal for underclassmen to receive. Now I can’t speak for the team. But it felt as though the Warriors were trying to find a rhythm with changes constantly being made within the lineup. Which to their credit, is a difficult thing to do.
While the record seems like the fall semester was all doom and gloom, it wasn’t all bad when you look deeper.
We saw some bright, encouraging wins and some disappointing losses from our beloved Warriors. On the bright side, the victories resulted in Merrimack scoring four or more goals and allowing three or fewer. This is an encouraging bright spot for the team.
The losses are not all bad either.
Five of Merrimack’s eight losses (up to the end of HEA play) were one-goal games. If you count the second ASU game (4-2, the fourth goal was an EN), that makes almost 75% of their losses by one goal. If you count the stats like that, Boston University was the only team to beat the Warriors by multiple goals up to that point.
It makes you feel that the team is right there with everyone else. To my belief, they are. Merrimack currently has 9 points in the Hockey East. Between them and 4th-seeded Providence, is a 6-point differential. The Warriors, in a perfect world, are right back in the battle with a winning weekend of Hockey East play (2 wins = 6 points).
Luckily for them, there’s a whole second half of hockey to play. Merrimack, most notably has a few top-heavy teams in the conference left on their schedule. Teams such as UMass Amherst (1/12-1/13), Boston College (1/19-1/21), UNH (⅔-2/10), Vermont (2/16-2/17) and Providence (2/29-3/1). All highlighted as new foes Merrimack has yet to face this season. Of those teams I mentioned, ⅘ were in the top 20 national rankings at some point in the fall. No one said it was going to be easy.
The Warriors begin their spring pretty early, visiting Brown tonight at 7 p.m. Then Stonehill will visit Lawler on New Year’s Eve this Sunday for a 2 p.m. puck drop. If you’re Merrimack, starting strong with two wins heading into the new year is huge.