EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 25, 2011

Merrimack's Cannata for Hobey Baker Award

On College Hockey
Mike McMahon

Earlier this week, Merrimack College launched campaigns promoting both junior goaltender Joe Cannata and sophomore forward Stephane Da Costa for the prestigious Hobey Baker award, handed out annually to the best college hockey player in the nation.

Da Costa, who has 13 goals and a team-high 36 points, is highly touted. But missing the last three games due to injury has given a chance for a lot of forwards, Derry's Paul Thompson at UNH (24-22—46), for example, to separate themselves from the Parisian scorer.

Cannata, on the other hand, has been fourth-ranked Merrimack's best player in its biggest games.

The Warriors' MVP has been between the pipes, and should unquestionably be a finalist for the Hobey.

Heck, he should win it.

Goaltenders, however, always seem to have a rough go of it. Gaudy scoring numbers usually win out over stingy defensive ones.

But look at Cannata's numbers against teams under consideration for the NCAA tournament (any team with an RPI rating of .500 or better).

He's 7-2-2 with a 2.35 goals-against and a .924 save percentage. That includes wins over Boston College (2), Boston University (1), UNH (2), RIT (1) and Maine (1). The Warriors travel to Orono for a pair of games with the Black Bears this weekend.

Against BC, the highest-ranked Hockey East team in the country and the defending national champions, Cannata is 2-1, stopping 94 of 102 shots (.922 save percentage).

"He has icewater in his veins," said head coach Mark Dennehy. "He's exactly what we thought he was when we were recruiting him. Nothing fazes him. There are nights where he's in a groove and I just know that no one is going to beat him. ... He only has to make one save, the one that saves the game, and he's done that more often than not this season."

His winning percentage (.767) is fifth in the nation and his 21 wins are tied for second.

He is first in Hockey East in goals-against average and has been named a league Player of the Week four times, as well as the Defensive Player of the Month in October.

In baseball you'd call him the stopper. The ace. The guy who you want out there after a loss to stop the bleeding.

In games following Merrimack losses, Cannata is 4-0-1 with a goals-against-average of just 1.18 and a save percentage of .957 (133 of 139).

Merrimack's scoring depth and skill on offense is as high as it ever has been, but you build a team from the net out. The Warriors aren't poised for a run at a Hockey East and a national title without No. 35 manning the crease.

In other words, he's the MVP.

The MVP of a team ranked fourth in the country. The MVP of a team that has climbed out of the grave and now stands among the NCAA's elite.

Merrimack-Maine Notebook

Merrimack has won 14 of its last 15 games. ... The Warriors are 12-59-6 lifetime vs. Maine and 5-34-2 lifetime at Alfond Arena. ... Merrimack has won nine straight road games, the longest in program history. ... The Warriors have potted 35 goals in their last seven games. In 2006-07, the Warriors scored just 37 times all season. ... Carter Madsen, known for being a defensive presence up front, has three goals in four games (including 2 game-winners) and has 13 points this season after scoring 10 points in his first two years combined. ... Merrimack has picked up points in six of eight games against ranked opponents this season (4-2-2). ... The Warriors haven't been swept in a Hockey East weekend series in two years, last falling twice to Maine on Feb. 27-28 of 2009.

Postseason Primer

March 11-13 — Hockey East Quarterfinals

The top four teams in the league host best-of-3 quarterfinal series at their home rinks. All three games are played at the top seed.

March 17 — Hockey East banquet with season-ending awards.

March 18-19 — Hockey East semifinals and finals at the TD Garden.

The league champion gets an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament.

March 20 — NCAA Selection Sunday (11:30 a.m., ESPN2), the field of 16 is announced.

March 25-27 — NCAA Regionals in Green Bay, St. Louis, Manchester and Bridgeport with the four winners going to the Frozen Four. Two sites will play Friday and Saturday while two sites play Saturday and Sunday.

April 8 — Hobey Baker Award announced.

April 7-9 — Frozen Four in Minneapolis. Semifinals on Thursday, title game on Saturday.

SNbS

No. 4 Merrimack at No. 16 Maine

When: Today and tomorrow, 7 p.m.

Merrimack Maine

Record 21-5-4 14-10-6

Hockey East15-5-311-8-4

Goals For 3.73 3.23

Goals Against 2.13 2.87

Power Play 22.1% 16.9%

Penalty Kill 87.6% 82.4%