Merrimack is looking for a new men’s hockey coach after the news on Sunday that Mark Dennehy won’t return for a 14th season behind the Warrior bench.
Despite being one of the smaller schools in Division I hockey, Merrimack will still be an attractive job. Several coaches, currently college assistants, confirmed on Monday that they’ve already sent resumes to Merrimack and there’s the potential for some current head coaches to be involved as well. It’s a Hockey East job, after all.
Islanders HC head coach Sean Tremblay will not be a candidate, according to sources; there were rumors on Monday that Tremblay was considered a potential target.
Below is a list of potential candidates, and it’s a long list. Some of these candidates might seem far-fetched, and I’ll readily admit that some of these names would be tough for athletic director Jeremy Gibson to land, but I bring them up because I do think Merrimack has something to offer these coaches, even if they’re head coaches somewhere currently, and I’d expect them to at least make a run at some of these names.
Rick Bennett — Union head coach
Bennett will be considered a long shot, but it would be hard to imagine Merrimack not making a call to the Union coach to gauge his interest. Bennett would be, by far, the biggest splash Merrimack would make.
Bennett, who signed a contract extension with Union last summer, has achieved continued success with the Dutchmen, including a national championship in 2014. He’s achieved that success at a school similar in size to Merrimack, and with less resources.
Merrimack can offer Bennett a job in Hockey East (he’s a Providence grad), but he’s turned down those opportunities before, most recently when UMass reportedly took a run at him in 2016 and the program ultimately hired Greg Carvel. Merrimack can also, according to sources, offer Bennet a substantial pay raise. I’m told that Merrimack is prepared to do what it takes to get who they believe is the right candidate, and salary won’t stand in the way.
Bennett, 50, has a 158-84-32 record at Union; the Dutchmen finished 21-15-2 this season and were eliminated in the ECAC Tournament.
He’s a long shot, but I’m expecting Merrimack to take a shot at him.
Paul Pearl — Harvard associate head coach
Pearl, a former head coach at Holy Cross, has helped oversee the rise of the Harvard program. Prior to Pearl joining Ted Donato’s staff in 2014, Harvard was coming off a losing season (10-17-4), and the Crimson had suffered losing seasons in five of the previous six seasons, including two years with single-digit wins.
Since Pearl’s arrival on the staff, Harvard has gone 82-43-13, making the NCAA Tournament in three straight seasons and the Crimson made the Frozen Four last year.
Pearl, 51, left Holy Cross, his alma mater, in 2014 to take the job on Donato’s staff. Pearl was reportedly frustrated with Holy Cross’ lack of investment in the program.
Mike Cavanaugh — Connecticut head coach
Like Bennett, Cavanaugh is a long shot for a number of reasons. First, it would be a move within the league, and that rarely happens. But despite what most people would think, there are things Merrimack can likely offer Cavanaugh. According to state filings, Cavanaugh is making around $300,000 per year. Merrimack, according to those I’ve spoken to, can pay a similar salary, so that doesn’t immediately exclude them, but I don’t think Cavanaugh would get a huge raise coming over to the Warriors. It would be a similar salary.
But there are other reasons why might Cavanaugh be attracted to Merrimack more than UConn? Well, playing at the XL Center has some advantages, but it’s also a nightmare at times. The rink isn’t on campus, and they don’t own it. That’s why you see UConn play at some weird times (weekday nights or early on Saturday afternoons). There are concessions made for the Hartford Wolf Pack.
According to sources if UConn had to host a first-round series in the Hockey East playoffs last year, the Huskies would have had to find another rink because the XL Center wasn’t available.
Hockey is, at best, the fourth-most important sport at UConn behind men’s and women’s basketball, as well as football. Hockey occupies the top spot on the totem pole at Merrimack.
Cavanaugh is also a North Andover native, and still has family in the area.
Is that enough to attract him to a smaller school in the same conference?
It might seem far-fetched — and like I said it’s a long shot — but while I think Merrimack will make overtures towards Bennett, I could see Cavanaugh fall into this same category.
Curtis Carr — Merrimack associate head coach
It would be outside the box, considering the circumstances, but Carr absolutely deserves consideration for this job. He has head coaching experience in the USHL with the Youngstown Phantoms prior to joining Merrimack and has a great knowledge of Hockey East, and what it takes to attract players to a school like Merrimack.
Carr also likely has his own ideas as far as running a program. Not every assistant falls in lockstep with the head coaches that serve under, and that goes for Carr and any other assistant on this list.
If Merrimack believes it needs a bridge to the current recruiting class, then Carr is it. At the very least, if he doesn’t get the head coaching job, it would be wise for whoever does get the job to retain Carr as part of the coaching staff. He’s a tremendous asset.
Seth Appert — NTDP head coach
Appert was the head coach at RPI until last season, when he was let go by the Engineers and ultimately took the head-coaching role with the U.S. National Development Program. There was speculation last summer that RPI wasn’t giving the program enough resources to adequately succeed. Appert was also a longtime assistant under George Gwozdecky at Denver, helping the Pioneers win national championships in 2004 and 2005.
Appert, 43, is a former president of the American Hockey Coaches Association.
Joe Exter — Michigan State assistant coach, former Merrimack goaltender
Exter, 39, just completed his first season as an assistant coach at Michigan State under Danton Cole. Prior to joining the Spartans, Exter was an assistant coach at Ohio State, helping assemble the roster that has gone 45-20-11 the last two seasons; the Buckeyes are about to make their second straight NCAA Tournament.
Exter has experience with USA Hockey as well, serving as the full-time goalie coach for the U.S. National Development Program prior to joining Ohio State, and he is one of a small list of potential alumni candidates.
Mike Doneghey — Chicago Blackhawks Director of USA Scouting, former Merrimack assistant and goaltender
Aside from Exter, Doneghey is the only other candidate among alumni. Doneghey served on Chris Serino’s staff at Merrimack and then ran the Bridgewater Bandits program in the EJHL before joining the Blackhawks organization. He’s won Stanley Cup rings with the ‘Hawks, where he serves with former Merrimack head coach Ron Anderson.
Kristofer Mayotte — Providence associate head coach
Mayotte has an excellent pedigree. He coached with Greg Carvel at St. Lawrence, and helped resurrect the Saints program. Then he joined Nate Leaman’s coaching staff at Providence, and we know how well the Friars have fared in recent years. On top of that, Mayotte has served on USA Hockey’s staff at the World Junior Championship, under St. Cloud State head coach Bob Motzko, and Motzko’s Huskies are No. 1 in the Pairwise right now.
Mayotte, 35, has never been a head coach, but the former Union goaltender has learned from some great mentors.
David Berard — Holy Cross head coach
Berard’s resume is interesting. He took over UConn on an interim basis when Bruce Marshall abruptly resigned in 2012 and guided the team to a 12-6-2 record in Atlantic Hockey, after the Huskies started the season winless in five games. He was a finalist for the UConn job when it went to Mike Cavanaugh, and then he served on Nate Leaman’s staff at Providence for a year before taking over for Pearl as the head coach at Holy Cross.
Berard, 47, guided the Crusaders to an 18-win season last year, but Holy Cross has finished below .500 in three of his four seasons. That being said, there continues to be questions surrounding institutional support, so perhaps he doesn’t have all of the necessary tools at his disposal.
Ben Syer — Cornell associate head coach
Syer has been a candidate elsewhere as well. Now at Cornell — the Big Red are in the midst of one of their best seasons in recent years — Syer was formerly at Quinnipiac, helping Rand Pecknold build the first wave of good Quinnipiac teams.
Other candidates include Jerry Keefe, the associate head coach at Northeastern, Albie O’Connell, the former Merrimack assistant who is now the associate head coach at Boston University, and Ben Barr, an assistant under Greg Carvel at UMass who has also served on the staff at Western Michigan and Providence. Glenn Stewart, a former Merrimack associate head coach, could also show interest; he’s currently an associate head coach at UNH. Bill Riga has been considered for openings in the past at other schools, and I’d assume the Quinnipiac associate head coach will make a run for the job here. Reid Cashman, another former Quinnipiac assistant, could also be in the running (he’s in the AHL currently as an assistant with the Hershey Bears). Cam Ellsworth was in the hunt for jobs last season and he’s been under the learning tree of Norm Bazin for the last several seasons. Phil Roy has helped build up the Clarkson program and he’s also a former Merrimack assistant.
Eric Lang has only been at AIC for two years, but he’s worked miracles with that program, turning it from a laughingstock to a respectable program in Atlantic Hockey in an incredibly short amount of time. He was formerly on staff with Brian Riley at Army.
Some dark horse candidates include Anthony Noreen, the current Tri City (USHL) head coach, who also has experience in the ECHL; he was a finalist at St. Lawrence when Mark Morris was hired.
Darren Yopyk should be a candidate if he wants to be, but the former Merrimack assistant (currently a scout with the Minnesota Wild) might have reservations about replacing one of his coaching mentors.
Peter Belisle has had tremendous success at the Division III level at UMass Boston, as has Matthew Greason (Trinity) and Gary Heenan (Utica).