After a five-year tenure that included the first state title in program history, 2009 Eagle-Tribune hockey Coach of the Year Andrew Merrick has stepped down at Timberlane.
"It certainly wasn't an easy decision," said Merrick. "I love coaching. I love the kids and love the program, but I felt like it was the right time to step away and concentrate on my family."
The Owls closed out their season last Wednesday with a 3-2 loss to top-seeded Bow in the New Hampshire Division 2 semifinals.
"Andrew has done a great job for us," said Timberlane athletic director Angelo Fantasia. "He has his reasons for leaving, but we are very proud of him and very happy he gave us all that he did."
Merrick was just 27 with only a season of coaching experience in junior hockey when he was hired prior to the 2005-06 season. And the Syosset, N.Y., native and Salem resident inherited a slumping program.
After managing an impressive 21-13-2 mark in their first two years as a varsity program (2000-02), the Owls had fallen on hard times. They finished 14-42 over the next three seasons.
"When I got here the team was struggling for an identity," said Merrick. "Losing had become acceptable. We addressed that, and a lot of great players helped that cause."
After a rocky first season (7-13), Merrick's Owls turned it around.
Last season, the Owls delivered a season for the ages, going a school-record 20-4 and beating Oyster River 3-2 in the Division 2 title game. The Owls followed that up with a 14-7-2 mark this season, with a fourth straight trip to the semis.
But, during this season, Merrick began to consider leaving his post.
"Probably in the middle of the year I started thinking this could be my last year," he said. "I was always year-to-year, and I wanted to keep it to myself and see if anything changed. Things became very hectic at work and with my children."
Merrick and wife Amy recently welcomed their third child, Landon, to go with 4-year-old Adyn and 2-year-old Cameron. Merrick is employed selling hockey equipment for Eastern Sports.
"I have a passion for coaching," said Merrick. "One of the issues was I got addicted to it. I put a lot of effort into building this team, and when you do that other things have to be sacrificed.
"I needed to spend more time at home. I didn't want to make my wife handle it all on her own. Adyn is starting to play hockey too, and I want to be a part of that."
Fantasia said Merrick would likely be involved in selecting the new coach.
"He really built a great program," said Fantasia. "I'll meet with him once the spring season gets underway about the coaching search."
Merrick did not rule out returning to coaching in the future. Hockey has been a major part of his life since childhood. His father, Wayne Merrick, spent 14 seasons in the NHL, winning four Stanley Cup titles with the New York Islanders. Andrew Merrick played wing for the University of Michigan, winning the 1998 national championship.
"The (Timberlane) program is in a good place," said Merrick. "Guys like (Nick) Bundzinski, Zach (Fox) and (Ryan) Rothwell could have played elsewhere, but they stayed here. Hopefully it will continue.
"I feel like it's the right thing to do now. Maybe I'll get my sons involved here. I'd love to keep the door open, because I love hockey."
2009-1014-7-2Division 2 semifinals
2008-0920-4Division 2 state champs
2007-0816-6-1Division 2 semifinals
2006-0713-9-1Division 2 semifinals