North Andover, MA– Perhaps no collegiate hockey program underwent as much offseason turmoil as the Merrimack College Warriors. Immediately after their season ended in Hockey East’s second round of playoff action, after a stunning upset of rival UMass Lowell, Merrimack fired longtime Head Coach Mark Dennehy. Seven seniors graduated after the year, and Merrimack hired new Head Coach Scott Borek to fill the void. Borek does appear to be a good hire, but the Warriors have a long hill to climb.
They began their season with a matchup against Borek’s former team, the Lake Superior State Lakers. The teams combined for a thrilling offensive showcase on Saturday night, with Lake State scoring on a penalty shot by Anthony Nellis to beat Drew Vogler with less than five minutes left. Lake State won the opener 5-4. The next afternoon, the teams matched each other with a stronger defensive effort and a grittier game. Sadly for the Warriors, the outcome was ultimately the same.
Merrimack had an early advantage even if the stats didn’t indicate it. Lake State outshot the Warriors 9-5 in the opening frame, but the Lakers also outblocked Merrimack 7-2 and the Warriors out-attempted Lake State 18-13 for the frame. Still, Mareks Mitens and Craig Pantano saved every shot they faced and the game entered the intermission scoreless.
Lake State capitalized on a golden chance to open the second. Thirty-seven seconds into the frame, Max Humitz potted his second goal of the weekend to put the Lakers ahead after a nifty move by Brayden Gelsinger to create the scoring chance. Lawler Arena fell quiet after Humitz’s second goal of the weekend. Merrimack turned up the pressure, outshooting the Lakers for the rest of the frame 11-6 and out-attempting the Lakers 22-9. Yet, Mitens held firm and Lake State was 20 minutes away from an opening weekend road sweep.
Merrimack again cranked up the pressure in the third. They peppered Mareks Mitens with 14 shots and at several points appeared destined to tie the game and force overtime. Yet, the sophomore from Ventspils, Latvia, recorded his first career shutout, a 31 save effort to complete a 1-0 victory over Merrimack.
Warrior Head Coach Scott Borek, still anxious for his first collegiate head coaching win as a Warrior and first since coaching Lake State back in 2001, was realistic about the game and his team’s status. “Obviously disappointing result. You can’t make it look good when it’s not good. I thought we got off to a slow start like we were tired or nervous. We played more desperate later, and if we’d played like that the whole game, we’d have had 50 shots on net. I was really happy with the way these guys finished the game.”
Lake Superior State returns to the Upper Peninsula for two exhibition games against Nipissing University, a school from North Bay, Ontario, on home ice in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. Puck drops at Taffy Abel Arena at 7 pm on both Friday and Saturday.
Merrimack falls to 0-2 to open and hits the road this weekend for two games. On Friday night, they’re at the new Bently Arena in Waltham, MA, to play the Bentley Falcons. On Saturday, they travel to West Point, NY, to play the Black Knights of Army. Both games start at 7:05 pm.