Video courtesy of Tim Rosenthal
Ryan Flanigan walked into the post game press conference late after Adam Ross and Coach Dennehy had already begun. He pulled out his chair sat down and looked straight ahead into space, his clenched jaw hidden by a thick red beard.
Flanigan, in body, may have been in that room, but his mind was already on Tuesday.
And who could blame him. He and the Merrimack Warriors had done almost everything right.
“I thought we did almost everything we needed to do except win,” explained Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy on his club’s heart breaker 5-3 loss to Boston College Saturday night at the TD Garden.
But at the end of the night, big surprise, a school with the word “Boston” in their name won a big game in Hockey East at the Garden. No super moon induced disaster where a school other than one of the Comm Ave Gems would win the Hockey East championship for the first time in seven years.
Tuesday is the day Merrimack goes back to practice. The first one they’ve ever had post Hockey East playoffs in the school’s history. The bags don’t get packed up. The nameplates stay above the stalls in the locker room for now. There is still hockey to play, and work to be done.
“I think it is important that we focus on what we could have done differently, and to use that into practice this week. Start up Tuesday, and get ready to go on the weekend,” Flanigan explained.
It wasn’t necessarily a case of the big game jitters for Merrimack. Sometimes the bounces just don’t go your way. Sometimes you just get beat. How does Aerosmith say it? You’ve got to lose to know how to win.
Merrimack had done an awful lot of losing before this years major turnaround. Maybe they needed one more to teach them one final lesson before their first Division I NCAA tournament appearance.
“We can’t focus on… Oh we played at the Garden, and that is great and everything, but we still need to play hockey and the game within the glass,” said Flanigan “As long as we keep doing that, working hard, and focused on what we need to do to win hockey games, we will be all set next weekend.”
And for Flanigan who scored two of the Warriors three goals on the evening, theres no doubt that he would trade his points for a win any day of the week, and that kind of character is a skill that can only be taught from being on the wrong end of games like this.
“My linemates do a great job getting to the puck, and I am putting pucks on net, and they are going in. it’s great. I will do whatever it takes to help the team and if I don’t score any goals but have a few blocked shots, that’s good,” said Flanigan” I just want to win hockey games. If your score two goals, you still have to win the hockey game.”
The thing setting apart teams like Merrimack making runs at the elite old boys club in Hockey East is these big games. Racking up wins in November versus March might as well be two different seasons.
“I think we found out this year, as a program, how much pressure there can be to play well,” Dennehy commented. “We don’t like the word expectation, but there are a lot on them.”
But amidst all the expectation, and what could have been in the TD Garden last night, the Warriors are looking forward.
“It is a good learning lesson for us, that is the bad news. The good news is we continue on. I get to coach these young men again next week, which we are obviously excited about, or will be tomorrow,” said Dennehy “It would be nice to meet them in the Frozen Four.”