NORTH ANDOVER — Back in October, if you were asked who the likely hero would be for the Merrimack men’s hockey team this season, Brett Seney would have been your pick. A senior forward from Ontario, all Seney has done is lead the Warriors in scoring every season since his arrival on campus in 2013. Once again this season, he’s leading the Warriors in scoring and he was part of a team that swept the defending champions, UMass Lowell, out of the Hockey East playoffs last weekend at the Tsongas Center.
Ed. Note — This story will also appear in Friday’s edition of The Eagle Tribune
But, Seney wasn’t the story last weekend, despite scoring three points in two games (all assists). It was the unlikely hero, goaltender Craig Pantano, that led the charge.
Entering his third season on the roster, Pantano had made just one relief appearance between the pipes for the Warriors prior to this past October, and despite Collin Delia signing with the Chicago Blackhawks late last summer, it appeared his time would again by limited behind fellow junior Drew Vogler.
Fast forward to the end of the season and Pantano has been the top goaltender on the roster, posting 11 wins and leading the team with a .918 save percentage.
Pantano isn’t just leading the team; his goals-against average and save percentage are fourth-best in Hockey East.
“You don’t win hockey games, especially in the playoffs, without good goaltending,” said Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy. “That’s what Craig has provided us. If you ask him, he’d talk about his teammates in front of him, but he’s made some big saves for us and he made some big saves on Saturday night to help secure a victory that ended a very good team’s season. That’s really difficult to do. The guys loving playing in front of him and he’s done a really good job all year.”
Offensively Seney helped pace the Warriors, assisting on Jace Hennig’s game-tying goal on Friday in the final minutes, and then assisting on Hennig’s game-winning overtime goal the very next night.
Seney and Hennig have formed quite the tandem this season, rekindling a line that formed early on their freshman year, alongside Mathieu Tibbet on the right wing.
“(Seney) is a dynamic player for us and they’re hard to find,” Dennehy said. “I’ve been impressed by his competitive spirit. He’s pound-for-pound one of the toughest guys I’ve coached. And we’ve played him at wing, at center, with guys and then with other guys, and all he wants to do is play. He loves playing hockey. When he’s stopping on picks and playing on the right side of them, he’s playing a 200-foot game and there’s no one I’d rather have on the ice.”
Merrimack matches up with the tournament’s No. 1 seed this weekend, Boston College, traveling to Conte Forum for Game 1 tonight. Game 2 will be Saturday night and Game 3, if necessary, is Sunday evening.
“We know we have a bigger challenge at BC,” Dennehy said. “Our guys are looking forward to it.
“We played them at the start of our Hockey East schedule and they were a young team that has obviously matured over this season. Even then, I thought they were as good a transition team as we’ve played, and I think they might be the best transition team we’ve played all year long. Then go from defense to offense as fast as any team we’ve played. We want to make them come 200 feet and take care of the puck. If we don’t, they can get it going from defense to offense pretty fast.”