Throughout the month of September, TMR editor and CHN senior writer Mike McMahon will begin previewing the 2018-19 Hockey East season with preview capsules on each of the 11 teams in the league. Projections (and picks) were based on a formula that takes into consideration returning scoring (with a multiple to account for player improvement and development) as well as scoring lost, returning save percentage and shots for/against from the previous season. There was also a factor added for freshman scoring, which took into consideration the average goal total per freshman, per program, broken down by defensemen and forward in an effort to gauge an average “recruit strength” per team.
For the purposes of the picks, I’m going to let the model do that for me. In breaking down each team, I’ll add my own thoughts and let you know if I think the model has a team too high, too low, or just right.
Head Coach: Scott Borek
2017-18 Record: 12-21-4, (7-15-2), 10th
2018-19 Projected Record: 12-21-1
Changes: Changes are abound for Merrimack this upcoming season. There’s a new head coach in Scott Borek and the bulk of last year’s scoring all graduated, including Brett Seney (32 points last season), who was the Warriors’ top offensive threat for the past four seasons. Defensively, Merrimack loses big-minute eaters in Jared Kolquist (24 points) and Marc Biega (10 points) and the secondary scoring takes a hit with Jace Hennig (25 points) graduating and Ludvig Larsson (21 points) transferring as a graduate student to Penn State.
Strength: On paper, Merrimack has depth at the blue line. Johnathan Kovacevic is without question the top player in that unit, and he’ll be joined by fellow returnees Alex Carle and Simon Loof, who was touted as a big recruit for the Warriors but his freshman season was derailed due to an early injury. Merrimack also added Tyler Heidt to the mix late in the recruiting cycle; Borek has raved about Heidt’s skill, noting that he had the freshman paired with Kovacevic in practice last week. The Warriors also bring back Dominic Dockery and Ryan Cook, who didn’t provide a lot of offensive punch from the blue line, but they’re dependable defenders who won’t cost their team goals due to egregious mistakes.
Weakness: The biggest question facing Merrimack ahead of this season is the same question it has been facing for the last two or three years, and that’s whether or not the Warriors will be able to find enough scoring. This year’s team will have to rely on younger players to produce goals, including Chase Gresock, who was one of the top scorers in the USHL last season. Returning winger Sami Tavernier will have to pick up some of the slack left by Seney and Larsson’s departure leaves a pretty big hole in the No. 1 center slot. Freshmen Jordan Seyfert and August Von Ungern-Sternberg (he’s out for a few months with an injury) should be able to chip in with points right away along with Chase Olsen.
The problem is Merrimack needs those freshmen to produce points. Most programs aren’t in the position of having to rely so heavily on younger players, but as Borek and co. rebuild the roster, it will be necessary for Merrimack.
Merrimack has good depth in the 7-12 forward positions, with solid two-way players like Derek Petti, Michael Babcock, Tyler Drevitch and Tyler Irvine. But the top-six needs to provide more punch offensively. Cole McBride could be primed for a big year and by the way he plays, Logan Coomes feels like he’s ready to breakout offensively. Jackson Bales has the potential to lock in one of the top-2 center positions, after his freshman season was hampered by injuries last year.
2018-19 Outlook: Nothing about Merrimack stands out as being great, but the Warriors have a chance to be quite good if everything falls their way. For example, Craig Pantano had a .915 save percentage last season — the team posted a .901 save percentage — and if Merrimack gets .915 goaltending over all of last season, their record would have improved to about 15-18-4 and the Warriors could have secured home ice in the first round of the Hockey East playoffs. That’s not even including an increase in goals (Merrimack was one of the lowest-scoring teams in the country last season).
However, this is a Merrimack team that still loses a lot from a roster that, even with better goaltending throughout the year, would have only won 15 games. The Warriors are going to need a lot of things to break their way, but there’s also a big unknown with a new head coach. Will they play the same way? And if they don’t, will new systems lead to a better shooting percentage, and increased scoring? Will it do so at the risk of allowing more goals? There are so many unknowns, the projection model I think as Merrimack slotted in the right spot. If I were picking the order, I would have slotted Merrimack somewhere in the band of 8-11, and No. 10 is right in the zone.
On the high end, Merrimack is a team that surprises people with young talent scoring goals, and they manage to lock in a playoff position (remember, Hockey East is moving to a new format this year where only the top-8 teams qualify for the postseason). On the low end, the offense struggles and the Warriors are one of three teams to miss the playoffs.
That being said, this is the freshman class a lot of Merrimack fans have been waiting for. A lot of these recruits were highly regarded, including Seyfert, Logan Drevitch, Ethan DeStefani and Gresock, and they’ve been committed for a number of years. This season could be the start of something, rather than a destination.
2018-19 Hockey East Picks