EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 23, 2013

Merrimack will return two all stars

By Mike McMahon
sports@eagletribune.com

---- — It was clear, in the aftermath of Merrimack hockey’s playoff loss to Boston University last week, that the Warriors need something to change.

After a playing its best hockey in January and into mid-February, the Warriors finished the season on a 1-7 slide, including being swept by BU in their best-of-three series last weekend at Agganis Arena.

“We need to go back to the drawing board and look at ourselves in the mirror as forwards and see what kind of hockey players we want to be,” said junior forward Rhett Bly.

“We need to figure out whether we want to live up to not only the seniors this year but the past alumni who have played here. They’ve been men. We need to get that culture back here.”

But the news isn’t all bad. The only players who will graduate this spring that saw regular ice time are defenseman Kyle Bigos (30 games, 4 goals, 7 assists) and forward John Heffernan (27 games, 4 goals, 7 assists).

“It’s humbling the commitment our four seniors had,” Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy said. “Physically, nutritionally, weight training and class ... it’s humbling.”

One player that will return is Mike Collins, who on Thursday was named a Hockey East First-Team All-Star. He’s the first “first-team” forward in Merrimack’s Hockey East history.

The junior was second in the league with 32 points in conference games and tied for first with 13 power-play points.

Collins led Merrimack in points, goals, assists, shots and power-play points, finishing with 38 points (17 goals, 21 assists) in 38 games.

Now with 93 points in 109 career games, Collins was also the runner-up for Hockey East Player of the Year.

Along with Collins, junior defenseman Jordan Heywood was named a Hockey East Second-Team All Star

Heywood finished second on the Warriors with 21 points and 13 assists, leading the team in time on ice. He has played in all 114 games since arriving at Merrimack and was also a runner-up for the Old Time Hockey Best Defensive Defensemen.

The Warriors also return Sam Marotta, who if not for Merrimack’s struggles down the stretch, might have been an All-Star himself.

New Jersey tournament on the horizon

Merrimack College will travel to Newark, N.J. in either 2014-15 or 2015-16 to take part in the Liberty Hockey Invitational at the Prudential Center, home of the New Jersey Devils.

This year’s tournament will be a two-day, four game tournament in October and features an all-Ivy roster, with Princeton, Yale, Brown and Dartmouth.

Over the next three years, the tournament will feature Princeton and Yale of the ECAC, with invitational spots filled by Hockey East programs Maine, Massachusetts, UMass-Lowell, Merrimack, and Vermont.

Bigos watch

Now that Merrimack’s season has come to a close, senior Kyle Bigos has a decision to make.

The 6-foot-5 defenseman, drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the fourth round of the 2009 NHL Draft, can either sign with the Oilers by June or become an unrestricted free agent.

Bigos finishes his collegiate career second all-time in Hockey East penalty minutes, behind Maine senior Joey Diamond.

“He’s been a big part, and I don’t mean that (literally), of our team since he got here,” Dennehy said.

“He was part of a class that we thought could change the culture of our program. When he gets to the next level, and this isn’t a knock on anything, but a third of his penalties won’t be penalties because he won’t knock guys over. He’s Paul Bunyon.”