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Five Takes: Pants a perfect fit for Merrimack

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NORTH ANDOVER — If we learned one thing after opening weekend, it’s that senior goaltender Craig Pantano has the starting job … at least for the time being.

Pantano was terrific on Sunday afternoon, stopping 23 shots as Merrimack’s offense sputtered and the Warriors fell to Lake Superior State, 1-0. This is just the continuation of what we saw last year from Pantano, when he posted a .915 save percentage as a junior and took control of the starting job by Thanksgiving.

Merrimack head coach Scott Borek seemed impressed as well, talking about how settled Pantano was in goal, and how that settled the team in front of him.

Given that, I’d be very surprised if Pantano didn’t start on Friday night at Bentley. I still think the goaltending could be a fluid situation — if Pantano goes off the rails Friday night, Drew Vogler or Logan Halladay seeing action on Saturday at Army isn’t out of the question — but if Pantano continues to make saves, keep Merrimack in games and settles down a relatively young team in front of him, it will be hard to take him out of the crease.

2. ‘Mack in the middle

Comparing and contrasting to some previous Warrior teams, it’s noticeable how much more this team shoots, at least on opening weekend. Shots were coming from all angles. In previous iterations of the Warriors, there were definitely times that they passed up the opportunity to shoot pucks. That wasn’t the case this weekend, especially in the second and third periods of both games.

The other noticeable difference was how many more pucks are being directed to the middle of the ice. As I pointed out in our game story, Merrimack out-attempted Lake State in the house 37-15 … more than 50 percent of their shot attempts came from inside the house. That’s impressive, and statistically, it will lead to more scoring.

In the past, Merrimack played more of a puck possession game, pinning pucks on the wall in the offensive zone and they tried to tire out the defense with the cycle.

“It’s funny, people used to play a real possession game, but the puck has to go to the net to score,” Borek said. “We’re trying to put a premium on getting pucks to the middle of the rink and the net front. Then it’s a will thing. Who is going to put it in? Or who is going to stop it? We don’t just want to possess the puck, we want to get them at the net front.”

Bingo.

3. PK improves on night 2

Merrimack’s penalty kill was much improved on Sunday afternoon. One night after they allowed three goals on five chances, the Warriors limited the Lakers to 0 for 4 with the man advantage and Lake State was only able to generate three shots on goal.

The biggest improvement on the PK was structure. It’s not a big surprise that structure could be a problem in the first few games of a season, but Merrimack looked more in control on the penalty kill Sunday, including clogging up shooting lanes and forcing the Lakers to spread the puck around the outside of the zone, in low-percentage and low-risk areas.

4. LSSU went to the trap

Borek mentioned it after the game, but Lake State showed almost no interest in playing offense on Sunday afternoon, especially once they were able to take the 1-0 lead.

Mareks Mitens, who started for the Lakers on Sunday, is (statistically) the worse of their two goaltenders. Part of the tactical change could have stemmed from the coaching staff having less confidence in Mitens, whose save percentage was just .896 last season.

On the road, it was a smart move for the Lakers. It’s a frustrating way to play and created game that wasn’t nearly as exciting to watch.

Mitens, for his part, was also very good in the second and third period.

5. Seyfert, Gresock impressive

It says a lot that Chase Gresock and Jordan Seyfert were on the ice in the 6-on-5 situation at the end of the game. That’s where you roll your most trusted offensive players over the boards, and in Game 2, two of those four forwards (they also went with 2 defensemen) were freshmen.

Seyfert is going to be fun to watch. He has a lot of offensive skill, he’s aggressive and he’ll take punishment. He’s crashing the net on every shot, hacking at loose pucks in the crease trying to score those “dirty goals” Borek talked about on Sunday. He’s a scrappy player but combines it with elite skating and good stick skills.

Gresock isn’t as flashy, but he’ll score a lot of points. He’s more cerebral in his play but possesses an electric wrister. He’s more composed and quiet in the way he goes about his business, but he’s just as effective.

Bold prediction: Seyfert and Gresock will both be 100-point scorers by the end of their Merrimack careers.

About Mike McMahon

Mike McMahon is in his 13th year covering Merrimack College for The Eagle Tribune and is the founder and managing editor of The Mack Report. Mike also serves on staff as a senior writer at College Hockey News. Follow him on Twitter @MikeMcMahonCHN

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1 Comment

  1. matthewmrichter@gmail.com

    October 8, 2018 at 9:25 am

    Now that’s a good headline!

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