NORTH ANDOVER — Merrimack College is a team that finished just five points out of first place in Hockey East last season and, in the middle of February, was leading the league.
But somewhere along the final eight games the Warriors seemed to lose their identity. The mission for this new season, at least here in its early stages, is to get back to the hard-hitting, pesky and grind-it-out style that helped propel the Warriors to the Hockey East championship game just two years ago.
That identity starts with toughness around the net.
“That’s where goals are scored,” said senior center and assistant captain Rhett Bly. “You would like to think it’s all nice toe drags in the slot but the majority of goals are scored right around the crease so the more we can get pucks and bodies there, the better off we’ll be. Last year were a little too soft in that area and this year it’s going to be a personal point of pride to get there and get gritty in that area.”
The message wasn’t lost on Bly’s teammates. The Warriors tied McGill Unversity, 1-1, yesterday in exhibition action at Lawler Rink, but the Warriors swarmed McGill goaltender Jacob Chouinard numerous times throughout – especially in the first period – forcing him to make 34 tough saves.
McGill, a university out of Montreal, won the Canadian National Championship in 2012 and tied preseason No. 1 UMass Lowell on Saturday, 3-3, at the Tsongas Center.
“Record (Bly’s message) and play it over and over,” said Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy. “Even in the NHL. Until they reduce the size of goaltender equipment, the only way you can score is three yards and a pile of dust. You have to get pucks and bodies to the net. I’m not the only one saying it. You turn on the Bruins or anything else, that’s the game right now.”