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2010 Hockey East Preview: 5. Merrimack

Between now and the start of the regular season, The Eagle Tribune and’s Mike McMahon will preview each Hockey East team in order from 10th to first, based on his predictions for the 2010-11 season.

Last Year’s Record: 16-18-2 (6th place)
Will they make the NCAA Tournament?: Maybe?
Top Returners:
Stephane Da Costa (16g, 29a)
Chris Barton (19g, 19a)
Joe Cannata (10-13-1, 3.04, .902)

Why they’ll finish 5th

This team can score, baby.

Da Costa scored 45 points as a rookie – what does he have in store for an encore? Chris Barton is going to be a premiere goal scorer. Brandon Brodhag quietly scored the most goals (tied with BC’s Chris Kreider) of any rookie in Hockey East last season. Karl Stollery is as good a puck-mover as anyone in the league. Kyle Bigos as a physical and as big as any defenseman in the league and Joe Cannata can outduel any goalie in the league. .. and I haven’t even named them all.

This is a good hockey team – a very good hockey team that should contend for home ice. I’ll be honest, I was really teetering on whether or not to pick them fourth. To be quite honest (and I’ll give you a little spoiler here), I think the Warriors are better than BU, who I have picked for fourth. But, it all goes back to my argument with Providence – the Friars have to prove to me they’re not a last place team and MC needs to prove that they’re a home ice team.

I wouldn’t be shocked at all to see this team get home ice in the playoffs. But there are some other factors that this group is going to have to face that other recent Merrimack teams haven’t — expectations.

They’ve never been higher.

There is no sneaking up on anyone anymore.

Why they could finish higher

Like I said above, I think they can finish with home ice. They just need to prove it. They’re as good, if not better than BU. Goaltending was a strength down the stretch and into the playoffs with Joe Cannata, but the position had some struggles at the start of last year. Jim Healey really helped in that regard, coming on board halfway through the year as goalie coach – both Cannata and Andrew Braithwaite gave him tremendous credit helping with their drills and Cannata was one of the best goalies in the league down the stretch run last season.

McMahon’s Picks:
5. Merrimack
6. Vermont
7. Northeastern
8. UMass Lowell
9. Massachusetts
10. Providence

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