Union-Merrimack pregame report
Good evening from Messa Rink, where there won’t be any talk about the NHL lockout because it’s opening night for the college hockey season! Union begins its 22nd NCAA Division I campaign as it hosts Merrimack.
It was on Nov. 1, 1991, that the Dutchmen began life as a Division I program. That night, they faced Merrimack, and dropped a 9-6 decision.
Tonight, before the teams do battle, the Dutchmen will celebrate a memorable 2011-12 season. The Dutchmen will raise four banners — one for their second straight ECAC Hockey regular-season title, one for their first ECACH tournament championship, another for the NCAA hockey East Regional championship and the other for their Frozen Four appearance. It will be a great time for them to reflect on what they accomplished.
But there is one thing that gnaws at them. They know they didn’t make the ultimate goal — winning the NCAA title.
“We met four of our five goals,” said Union coach Rick Bennett, who guided the Dutchmen to a 26-8-7 record and won the Tim Taylor Award as ECACH coach of the year. “The last one, obviously, down in Tampa Bay wasn’t the outcome we desired. For us, we realized actually how far we were away. I know it’s only two games, but it was kind of a slap in the face because you’re there, but you’re really not.”
So, when the puck drops at 7 tonight, they Dutchmen will put last season behind them and focus on what they need to do to make the Path to Pittsburgh for this season’s Frozen Four.
There is no doubt that the Dutchmen will be strong defensively. It starts in goal with junior Troy Grosenick, the defending Ken Dryden Award winner as ECACH goalie of the year. The blue-line corps is led by junior Mat Bodie, seniors Greg Coburn and Shawn Stuart and sophomore Shayne Gostisbehere.
The big question will be up front. The Dutchmen lost two outstanding forwards in Jeremy Welsh and Kelly Zajac. Replacing the 35 goals and 51 assists they combined for will go a long way in determining their fortunes this season.
The Dutchmen do have some quality forwards back, though. Junior Daniel Carr had his second straight 20-goal season. Senior Wayne Simpson had a career-high 18 goals. Senior forward Kyle Bodie produced a career-best 30 points. Junior Josh Jooris had a strong second half and finished with 29 points.
The Dutchmen will need players like juniors Matt Hatch and Kevin Sullivan, and sophomores Sam Coatta, Trevor Mingoia and Max Novak to step up their games. And there is potential in high-scoring recruits Matt Wilkins and David Roy to help the offense.
Here is Union’s opening-night lineup, starting with the forwards (LW-C-RW):
Daniel Ciampini/Kyle Bodie/Wayne Simpson
Daniel Carr/Max Novak/Kevin Sullivan
Matt Wilkins/Josh Jooris/Matt Hatch
Cole Ikkala/David Roy/Sam Coatta
The defensive pairings are:
Mat Bodie/Shawn Stuart
Greg Coburn/Shayne Gostisbehere
Ryan Forgaard/Sebastien Gingras
Grosenick starts in goal.
Merrimack is coming off an 18-12-7 season, including a 13-9-5 mark in Hockey East. The Warriors were the top-ranked team in the country for a couple of weeks last season. They had a 10-2-2 record and were ranked fifth when they hosted No. 12 Union on Dec. 17.
But their fortunes seem to change when they dropped a 3-1 decision to the Dutchmen. The loss started the Warriors on an 8-10-5 mark the rest of the way.
The Warriors lost four of their top-five scorers last season. Their top returning scorer is junior Mike Collins, who had 10 goals and 15 assists.
They also lost Joe Cannata, who was their No. 1 goalie and one of the all-time best at Merrimack. He had a 17-12-7 record last season with a 2.18 goals-against average. For his career, Cannata was 59-46-16 with a 2.47 GAA.
Here is the Merrimack lineup, starting with the forwards:
Mike Collins/Connor Toomey/Quinn Gould
Shawn Bates/Josh Myers/John Heffernan
Justin Mansfield/Rhett Bly/Kyle Singleton
Justin Hussar/Clayton Jardine/Brandon Brodhag
The defensive pairings are:
Tom McCarthy/Jordan Heywood
Brendan Ellis/Dan Kolomatis
Mike Wills/Kyle Bigos
Sam Marotta starts in goal.
Kevin Graber and Scott Whittemore are the referees. The linesmen are Mike Emanatian and Philip Kitchen.
If you didn’t read my first College Hockey Slap Schotts blog of the season on Monday, I announced some changes to the way I will provide live updates. All of my updates will be posted on Twitter. If you’re not following me, my Twitter handle is @slapschotts. The hashtags I will use for this game are #UnionHockey, #ECACHockey and #HockeyEast. The Twitter posts are linked to three Facebook pages — my own, The Daily Gazette on Ice and the Slap Schotts College Hockey Segment. Become a friend of mine Facebook, or like the two other pages.
I’ll update my Parting Schotts blog after each period, and have more description of the game.
Enjoy the game!