No matter who you read in September, each and every college hockey pundit in New England had the same assessment when it came to Merrimack College. In unison, everyone thought — actually, it was more like everyone knew — that the Warriors, without the graduated Joe Cannata between the pipes, were bound to struggle in goal and were likely to finish back near the bottom of the Hockey East pack.
Everyone, that is, except me.
I was sure — quite sure, in fact — that goaltending would be fine. So far, with Rasmus Tirronen (2.34 goals-against average, .914 save percentage) and Sam Marotta (2.60, .913) both emerging while splitting the starts in the first 16 games, it has been. For me, my mea culpa has to do with the Warriors’ offense.
Because as sure as I was that goaltending would be steady, I was equally as sure that the Warriors would struggle, and I thought mightily, to score goals. I was also sure, just like my pundit brethren, that the Warriors were doomed to finish near the bottom of the pack.
Granted we’re through just a third of the league schedule, but to this point, myself and others couldn’t be more wrong.
That being said, my reservations when it came to the offense didn’t come without some reason.
Last season the Warriors scored 2.59 goals per game in league play, which was seventh out of 10 teams in Hockey East. They were returning just one of their top-five scorers and one of four double-digit goal scorers – junior forward Mike Collins filled both of those returnee slots. This year’s senior class is thin in numbers, with just four total members with only two having played in at least half of Merrimack’s first 16 games.
“I don’t care who scores, know what I mean?” said Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy. “Freshman, sophomore, junior, senior, most guys have a good understanding how we play.”