NORTH ANDOVER — The sting of last year’s loss to Limestone in the national championship hasn’t gone away, not for the Warriors, and not for senior Blake Boudreau.
Boudreau drew the toughest matchup in last year’s title game. Merrimack’s faceoff man was up against Kevin Reisman, the Division II Player of the Year from Limestone who was the best faceoff player in Division II by a wide margin, and one of the best faceoff players in the country across all divisions.
Boudreau went 7 for 20 on faceoffs at Gillette Stadium last year, as Reisman’s faceoff wins helped Limestone hold possession, going on a 5-1 run in the third quarter that eventually gave the Saints a championship, 11-9, over the Warriors. Reisman won 17 of the 24 faceoffs he took in the game.
“I don’t think anybody has forgotten last year,” Boudreau said Sunday night, after the Warriors beat Seton Hill in the national semifinal. “I know this has been important to me all year, to get back to this game, especially after how last year went. We all want to make sure we finish it off. This is has been our goal all season.
“Everyone in our locker room wants to win a national championship. For me, it’s not any more important this year than it was last year, but last year was definitely motivation all last summer and into the fall and then into the season.”
Merrimack tried everything it could to stop Reisman. Boudreau used his athleticism to try to out-gun him and his strength to push him off the ball. Merrimack changed it up, putting Daniel Loprete on the X and even triple poled the midfield, which head coach Mike Morgan said was the first time the Warriors had ever done that on a faceoff.
Now, Boudreau and the Warriors head back to Gillette Stadium on Sunday against Saint Leo, and it’s Boudreau who has perhaps solidified himself as the best faceoff player in Division II. He’s certainly the best one left standing, winning 275 out of 404 faceoffs this year and taking 404 of Merrimack’s 458 as a team. Saint Leo doesn’t have a faceoff player in the top-50 nationally, according to NCAA.com, and Boudreau is ranked No. 7 in the nation in faceoff percentage, but Morgan said you also have to consider the strength of competition Boudreau faced all season in the NE10, arguably the toughest conference in the country.
“He’s a worker,” Morgan said. “What’s most unique about him, and why he’s the best, is he can win in so many ways. He can beat you clean, he has great hand speed and he can beat you up because he’s really strong and he has good form. If you get it out on him in space, he’s relentless on the ball. It’s not just about winning the clamp with him, it’s everything he does. The kid is just a worker.
“Seeing him get back there, and him getting the chance to have the performance I know he wants to have … he wants to carry us to our main goal, it’s really important to him.”
Morgan also credited Boudreau’s backup, Davis Cronin, with helping him prep during practice. Morgan said that Cronin will go as far as buying the stick the same stick of the upcoming opponent so Boudreau can get in reps against it in practice the week ahead of a game.
“Davis spends countless hours getting Blake prepared,” Morgan said. “Davis helps him prep with the film they look at together. There’s so much work that goes into it, and it’s translating on the field.
“Blake is on another level right now. I think he’s established himself as the best faceoff guy in the country. After last year, in the national championship game, I think he knows that he can make a big difference for us.”