Merrimack College season preview

By DJ Powers

The Merrimack Warriors will open their 50th regular season on October 14th when they travel to the BGSU Ice Arena to face off against host Bowling Green.

Injuries took a devastating toll on Merrimack last season and it was reflected in their overall performance. With the forgettable 2004-05 season behind them, the Warriors look to get back on track and stay healthy this season with a new face behind their bench. Mark Dennehy, who comes to Merrimack from UMass, replaces Chris Serino, who resigned this past spring.

Merrimack lost six players this offseason, five to graduation. The Warriors defensive corps took a couple of significant hits with the departure of two key players. Peter Hams graduated and outstanding offensive defenseman Jeff Caron left to play with the St. John Seadogs (QMJHL). Despite the losses, Merrimack returns a solid group of defensemen led by outstanding senior Bryan Schmidt. Schmidt was one of the few bright spots on the Warriors roster last season. He led the team in scoring with 31 points (13 goals, 18 assists). His 31 points was second in the conference and tied for seventh in the nation among defensemen. He also finished seventh in the nation among defensemen in points per game (0.86). The high number of injuries to the forwards forced Schmidt and Caron to carry much of the offensive load last season. He was one of only three players to have played in all 36 games last season. Schmidt’s excellent junior campaign earned him a selection to the Hockey East All-Conference Second team.

Two other defensemen whose performances last season were also noteworthy are senior Rob Lalonde and junior Ryan Sullivan. The rugged Lalonde, one of Merrimack’s best defensemen, was moved up to play forward at times early in the season due to the limited number of healthy forwards available. Lalonde himself missed seven games due to an ankle injury he suffered in last November’s Dunkin’ Donuts Coffee Pot Tournament in Providence. Sullivan made some significant strides in his overall play last season, particularly in his use of his 6’2/180 lbs. frame. Also returning for Merrimack are senior Scott Drewicki, junior Brian Boulay and sophomore Jordan Hart. They’ll be looking to help improve the nation’s second worst defense from a year ago.

Lack of strong support from the defensive corps also contributed to Merrimack’s problems last season. The result became the Warriors goaltenders often fending for themselves on many nights and lacking in confidence. Junior Jim Healey and senior Frank McLaughlin return this season. Casey Guenther, the Warriors’ third goaltender, has graduated. Healey started the majority of games, posting a 7-19-2 record. McLaughlin, who saw action in eight games, didn’t fare much better posting a 1-4-0 record.

Merrimack returns nearly all of their forwards from last season except Steve Crusco and Brendon Clark, who have graduated. With nearly the forwards intact coming into the 2005-06 season, the Warriors will need to generate more offense throughout their lineup if they are to have any amount of success in the ultra-competitive Hockey East conference. Merrimack finished the season with the 47th ranked team offense in the nation, averaging a mere 2.36 goals per game. Aside from Schmidt, only senior Matt Johnson and junior Mike Alexiou scored ten or more goals.

The most glaring indication of just how bad things were offensively is the fact that 12 of the team’s starters, that is those who played in at least half of the team’s games, scored three or few goals last season. Merrimack will be looking to returning forwards such as seniors Brent Gough and Nick Pomponio to pick up the offense this season. After leading the team in scoring with 29 points (12 goals, 17 assists) in 2003-04, Gough finished the 2004-05 season with 11 points (six goals, five assists). Pomponio amassed 12 points (three goals, nine assists) two seasons ago and last season posted a mere four points (all assists).

The Warriors will get some offensive help as two superb forwards in left wing Alex Semenov and center Rob Ricci will make their Merrimack debuts this season. Semenov comes to Merrimack from the Springfield Jr. Blues (NAHL), where he posted 56 points (20 goals, 36 assists) in 52 appearances last season. Semenov is a smooth-skating forward who is blessed great puck moving skill. Ricci comes to Merrimack from the Clark Cup Champion Cedar Rapids Roughriders (USHL), where finished second on the team and tied for eighth in the league in scoring with 60 points (26 goals, 34 assists). He was also a member of Team World in the USHL’s Prospects/All-Star game back in February. Ricci brings a strong work ethic and the ability to score timely goals to the Warriors lineup.

(Number of NHL prospects on 2005-06 roster: 0)

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