Merrimack’s senior class started their collegiate careers with one of the most infamous seasons in program history. In the midst of a rebuilding project, this class was the first building blocks – the foundation, if you will – that the future is being built on.
Here is a look back at all six seniors, and some slight observations from a guy who watched nearly every game they played the past four years.
Pat Bowen – Defense
You can tell just from talking to him, he has this program in his blood. He lives it, breathes it, sleeps it. Stepping into the shoes of Bryan Schmidt, who graduated a year before Bowen’s arrival, he was thrust into the spot of hard-shooting, puck-moving defenseman. He logged a lot of minutes as a freshman – the minutes usually reserved for a junior or senior – and continued to do so through his four years. He took his captain’s role seriously. Something that sticks out, and maybe because it’s so recent, was after the Warriors clinched a playoff spot aganist Providence; I was waiting with Nick Gagalis from USCHO to talk with head coach Mark Dennehy and some players and Bowen came jumping down the hall in the players lounge, clapping and yelling, “it’s about time!” … This season was a perfect exclamation point for him.
J.C. Robitaille – Forward
When I first interviewed Robitaille the fall of his freshman year, Darren Yopyk had to translate. When I talked to him that December for a story, I waited in the locker room for Darren, assuming we would need him again, and J.C., after a long pause, turned and said, “Ready when you are.” … I was shocked. Then to learn how he, for the most part, taught himself English in a matter of months amazed me. It showed me that he has a boat load of commitment. Nothing was more evident this year, too. Robitaille played an offensive-playmaking role much of his first three years. At the start of his senior year, much was the same. Then, around November if memory serves me correctly, he jumped into a defensive-grinding winger and became one of the most important pieces of the team down the stretch, going into corners, out-muscling opponents on the walls.
Justin Bonitatibus – Forward/Defense
Notice the slash … When you think Justin Bonitatibus, you think the ultimate team player. Last season, when injuries riddled the Merrimack lineup late in the season, the Warriors were short on the blue line. Bonitatibus moved from his familiar forward position to defense, a position he never played, and actually did quite well. So well that I thought he had to have played the position at some point, maybe in high school or in juniors. But talking to him after an exceptional game on defense on the large sheet at UNH, I was floored when I asked him the last time he played defense and he just smiled and said, “really, never.” Hearing from others how hard he worked to do whatever would help the team made it extra rewarding with seven goals and 11 points as a senior – both career highs.
Pat Kimball – Forward
As a rookie, he led the team in scoring. He’s another guy whose role changed throughout his four years but kept doing whatever he was asked, playing any role he needed to. Despite not being the biggest guy on the ice – 5-foot-8 – he went to the net like a 6-4 power forward with total disregard for his own well being. His goal celebrations were top-notch. From big fist pumps to the Alexander Ovechkin-esque jump into the boards after scoring on the breakaway in Friday’s game one, he exploded with emotion when scoring. He also gave me one of the best quotes any athlete has ever given me after potting two goals against then second-ranked Boston College last season, Kimball said of his celebrations, “I don’t know, something just comes over my body and I just have to go with it. I just go nuts. I can’t explain it.”
Brandon Sadlowski – Defense
Sadlowski and the program grew in symmetry. Dennehy said last night that Sadlowski, who was in and out of the lineup in his first two years, turned into one of the Warriors’ most dependable defenseman as a senior. Not only that, but he finished a team-leading plus-9 for all defenseman and finished at an even rating last season. He’s another guy who you can hear it just by talking to him that he has really made a connection with the program. Getting back to the playoffs is something that meant a lot to him because he knew how much it meant to the program.
Andrew Braithwaite – Goalie
Braithwaite made a start his freshmen year at UNH, who was ranked second in the country at the time. He stopped 37 shots. After the game, I asked him if the size of the crowd – the Whitt was sold out that night – if it was intimidating. He paused for a second and with a slight chuckle answered, “no.” … It was the first impression I had that nothing bothered him. He must have the perfect psyche for a goalie. Nothing phases him. Whether it was after a huge win or a devastating loss, he was the same guy. He also played a huge role in the program’s history. He made 20 starts as a sophomore and set program records for GAA in a season as the only healthy goalie on the roster.