North Andover, MA- Merrimack College has an interesting spot in Hockey East. The small Catholic college north of Boston has a well earned reputation as a gritty hockey team that trips up opponents, hits hard, and plays whistle to whistle like few teams can. Mark Dennehy brought the team to it’s first Hockey East Championship game and NCAA Tournament bid in 2011. Unfortunately, after that year and a top ranking early the next season, Merrimack has struggled to produce similar results. The Warriors have not finished above .500 since 2012, and even with playoff series win against Northeastern in 2015, UNH in 2016, and a stunning upset of Lowell in 2018, the Athletic Department decided they needed a change.
Immediately following their season’s final game against Boston College, Merrimack fired Mark Dennehy after 13 seasons. The move was met with some criticism for how quick after the season it was announced, but Merrimack proceeded with the search. Big names like Rick Bennett and Mike Cavanaugh were floated as potential headmen. Plenty of assistants around Hockey East were floated, including Curtis Carr, the Warrior’s assistant under Dennehy. On April 9th, the Warriors announced their new head coach: Scott Borek.
Borek is a Swampscott, MA, native. He attended Dartmouth College and played his freshman and sophomore seasons at Thompson Arena before a serious neck injury ended his playing career in 1983. He stayed around the team as a student manager and graduated with an English degree in 1985. He jumped into coaching as an assistant at Providence upon graduation. He moved to Brown in 1989, four years after moving to Rhode Island.
In 1991, he got his first Head Coaching job, leading the DIII Colby College Mules until 1995. He led them to their conference playoffs two years in his tenure. In 1995, he returned to Division 1 with a job as the Associate Head Coach at Lake Superior State under Jeff Jackson. Jackson was only there for one year before Borek was promoted to the Head Coach position. Unfortunately, Borek does not regard his work at Lake State as his best.
“The most frustrating thing is that I never coached the team like it was my own,” Borek said. “I was only there for a year before Jeff left. So it was the ‘Laker Way’. I tried to carry the “Laker Way’ on the way Jeff Jackson did. And we couldn’t be more different people. I’m much more passionate in my day-to-day work, and he’s more methodical. We only hit some success when I started coaching like it was my team.”
Ultimately, Borek lasted five seasons before being fired in 2001. The Laker’s best finish was third place in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association in 2000, but they never surpassed the CCHA Quarterfinal round of the playoffs. Borek returned to Division III as the Head Coach of the New England College Pilgrims.
After one year in Henniker, NH, Dick Umile called him and offered a job as an assistant in nearby Durham. For 10 years, Borek helped Umile keep UNH atop Hockey East, winning the Conference Championship and reaching the National Championship game in his first season with the Wildcats. UNH reached the NCAA Tournament 10 times in Borek’s time there.
In 2015, Borek went back to Rhode Island as an assistant with Nate Leaman at Providence College. He helped the Friars to the NCAA Tournament every year of his tenure and to the school’s first Hockey East Title Game since 2001 in his final season. The Friars provided Borek with both the best opportunities for growth as a coach and support in a hard time.
In 2016, Borek’s son, Gordon, was killed in a tragic car accident. Borek remains grateful to Nate Leaman and the Friars for all the support they gave him.
Borek joins the Warriors after a lifetime of preparation for a job in Hockey East, and full respect for the competition.
“I’m honored to be able to say I’m in this league and honored to be competing against the coaches and programs we’ll be competing against,” Borek said. “I’m humbled that I’ll be behind the bench at BU, BC, Northeastern, UNH, and all these great programs.”
While respectful of the teams he’ll be facing, Borek still holds lofty expectations for the program.
“I want to win a National Championship here at Merrimack,” Borek said. “If we win one here, I’ll be the proudest coach possible. I’m a dreamer. If you can dream it, it can happen. If you never dream it, it will never happen.”
Merrimack loses six important players to graduation, but has plenty of promise returning for next season. Cole McBride, Tyler Irvine, and Sami Tavernier bring skill on the forward lines while Jonathan Kovacevic and Alex Karle bring some strength on the blue line. Both Drew Vogler and Craig Pantano return to the net for Merrimack as seniors. Rising senior Michael Babcock spoke highly of the new hire. “He knows how to take control of the room immediately and he knows how to have his pulse on the locker room. We’re excited to get to work for him.”
The Warriors upset the reigning Hockey East Champion UMass Lowell in the First Round of the playoffs before narrowly falling to Boston College in the Quarterfinals. They know how to play in Hockey East. With a new voice behind the bench, North Andover promises to continue its reputation as a brutal place for road teams to visit.