NORTH ANDOVER — Imagine the guy that has to fill Tom Brady’s shoes?
That’s the situation Merrimack College goaltenders Sam Marotta and Rasmus Tirronen find themselves in this season.
Joe Cannata graduated last spring after playing a significant role in changing the face of the hockey program over his four years, including setting numerous program records and guiding the Warriors to their first NCAA tournament appearance since joining Hockey East.
He is Merrimack’s Tom Brady.
Just like the problem the Patriots will be faced with in the next five years, the changing of the guard comes now for the Warriors.
Marotta, a junior from Bridgewater, has been terrific in 169 career minutes, including posting a shutout in his only career start last season against UConn.
Tirronen comes to the Warriors from Finland and will be a sophomore on the team after sitting out last season due to an NCAA issue with some of his paperwork. He did practice with the Warriors all of last season.
“They’re both emblematic of their own personalities,” Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy said. “Sam is a go-getter, and I guess he’s sort of an over-achiever. He’s going to go out there and make a save. Ras is a little quieter, he lets things come to him and he’ll make the same saves but he will sit tight and let the pucks bounce off of him.”
The Warriors open the season on Saturday at No. 5 Union and, as of last night, Dennehy still hadn’t penciled in a starter. As things get started, expect to see a good sampling of what both Marotta and Tirronen have to offer.
“I don’t think we have enough data yet (to determine a long-term No. 1 goalie),” Dennehy said. “We’ll see where this takes us. Whether we take those guys and rotate early on and let someone claim it, we’ll see where it goes. Either way, we have two very good goalies who will be pushing each other all season and that’s a good thing.”
You would think that common sense says first-time goaltenders in an elite league like Hockey East could have a rough go of it, but recent history tells a different story.
Kieran Millan (BU) and John Muse (BC) each won national titles as freshman goaltenders in 2008 and 2009. Former Vermont goalie Rob Madore had his best season as a freshman in 2009, Joe Cannata set some Merrimack records as a freshman and Casey DeSmith was a sensation at New Hampshire last season.
Granted, especially in Muse’s and Millan’s cases, there were tremendous teams built in front of them, but there is still more data to suggest that goaltender, despite being the most important position on the ice, is the easiest for a first-timer to transition in Hockey East.
Dennehy believes much of that is due to coaching.
“It’s the most coached position of the last decade,” he said. “You look at the NHL and you don’t see contracts like Roberto Luongo and Rick DiPietro being signed anymore. A lot of that is because there are a lot more talented, elite goaltenders now. I joke with (North Andover goalie guru) Brian Daccord all the time but it really is the position that’s probably the most well-coached in the sport now.”
What will surely help is Merrimack’s defense, which will be one of the deepest in the league.
Junior captain Jordan Heywood will establish what most people already know, that he’s one of the best overall defensemen in the league. The Warriors also return junior Brendan Ellis and bruising senior Kyle Bigos along with sophomore Dan Kolomatis, who spent last year learning under the wings of Karl Stollery.
“We’ve always played great defense and that continues to be a focus for us,” Dennehy said. “I think (Cannata) will be the first one to tell you that we played tremendous defense in front of him.”
Warriors on The Game
Merrimack junior defenseman Jordan Heywood kicked off Merrimack’s relationship with WGAM yesterday when he joined Nick Anastos at 12:45. Today at 2:05, junior forward Mike Collins will join Tom King, and then Friday at 5 p.m., head coach Mark Dennehy will join Matt Perrault.
WGAM is the new radio home for Merrimack College hockey. John Leahy will return on game nights as the play-by-play voice and he’ll once again be joined by analyst Mike Machnik.
You can listen to the interviews locally on 1250 and 900 AM or online at wgamradio.com
WGAM also has smartphone apps where you can listen to programming; the apps will also stream all of Merrimack’s games this season. The app is a free download.