On College Hockey
If this were a decade ago, you might have well kissed him goodbye.
Mark Dennehy has turned Merrimack's hockey program from a cellar dweller into a contender for a Hockey East championship.
Quite the impressive feat.
Which is why when three Hockey East schools had head coaching vacancies this offseason, Dennehy's name was often in the conversation.
After all, Merrimack is by far Hockey East's smallest school. Its resources don't compare to the state schools' or larger private institutions' like Boston University or Boston College.
A decade ago, Dennehy would have been a goner.
Merrimack used to be a stepping stone. Now, it's becoming a destination.
On the heels of the best season the Warriors have had since moving up to Division 1 in the mid-'80s, the college has extended Dennehy's contract through the 2018-19 season.
Merrimack upped the ante, offering a long-term extension to keep the 2009-10 season Hockey East co-Coach of the Year with the Warriors.
"It was vitally important to keep momentum going in the right direction," said director of athletics Glenn Hofmann. "What Mark has done with our hockey program is outstanding. Merrimack hockey has been built to a point where we are competing for Hockey East championships and making the NCAA tournament.
"We're not going to take a step backwards. We're moving forward and committing to Mark is a big part of the vision we have for the college, athletically speaking."
Dennehy signed an extension through 2016 before this past season.
But in an offseason where there has been so much movement in the coaching ranks, including a high-paying job being filled at new Division 1 program Penn State, it's a good sign to see Merrimack lock him up to an even longer term.
According to sources, the three Hockey East schools with openings — Northeastern, Providence and UMass Lowell — sought out Dennehy.
He should be sought after at this point. He was at the helm for perhaps the greatest rebuilding job in the history of college hockey.
You don't think so? Name me one that's more impressive.
This program was left for dead just six years ago. They were lucky to draw 200 fans to a mid-week, non-conference game.
Now the building is sold out — the Warriors sold out 11 of 16 home games this season — and the team played in this past year's Hockey East Championship game.
A lot of credit goes to the players putting on the jersey, but Dennehy, as is any coach in collegiate athletics, is the one constant. Players come in and players graduate. The coach has stayed the same.
And Dennehy, along with his staff, brought in those players.
Hiring Dennehy in the summer of 2005 has proven to be the best decision the athletic department has ever made. And locking him up long-term is a close second.
Both coaches hired the same offseason as Dennehy — Providence's Tim Army and Northeastern's Greg Cronin — both resigned after last season. Blaise MacDonald at UMass Lowell resigned as well.
Norm Bazin took over UMass Lowell and Nate Leaman took over at Providence last month. Northeastern is still searching for its head coach.
Given the challenges of recruiting and succeeding as Hockey East's smallest school, I'd argue there isn't a better coach in the league, maybe the country.
"I am humbled and my family is truly grateful for the support and trust that (school president) Dr. Hopey and Glenn Hofmann have continued to show in me and the hockey program," said Dennehy. "Merrimack is a unique and special place in which hockey is truly a part of the fabric of the college. The excitement and momentum that not only the hockey program has established, but just as importantly is present throughout the entire college community makes this a place that I want to stay at for the rest of my career."
Hockey fuels college's success
Things at Merrimack are changing fast.
The college is expected to enroll the largest freshman class in its history this September and expansions projects, including expanding the Volpe Athletic Complex, are popping up at every corner on the North Andover campus.
It is far from coincidence that all of the expansion, at least athletically, centers around the success from hockey.
The premiere sport — it's Merrimack's only Division 1 program — is at an all-time high. The man behind the bench is a big reason for that.
When hockey succeeds, the athletic department succeeds.
And yesterday, the Warriors fixed their foundation for the next eight years.