Mack’s Mailbag: Aug 14, 2014

We’re back again. It’s the summer, so questions for the mailbag are slow to come in, but we have enough in the bag that it’s a good time for the next installment. You can email me to participate. Some of these questions were cleaned up for spelling or grammatical purposes. They’re anonymous, because in most cases, I don’t know who you are.

Who do you see really being the favorites for the Hockey East title?

It’s Boston College, Providence and then everyone else in my mind. But that’s not to say someone can’t steal this thing. It’s very early and it’s really hard to say anything definitively a month before players are even back on campus, but Providence and Boston College have the most impressive rosters, on paper. Boston University should make a jump this year, especially with Jack Eichel coming aboard. One player doesn’t make or break a team, but the Terriers will have enough pieces around Eichel, who I believe is the best freshman coming into the league since Paul Kariya. I’m not going to go as far as to say he’ll score 100 points, because it’s a different game than it was 25 years ago, but Eichel is one of the greats, and you might only get to see him play in Hockey East for one season.

What’s the latest on Merrimack and Division I. I feel like you have been talking about this forever. Lowell pushed this through nice and quick. What’s the holdup? What if they do all this and just remain Division II?

It’s still being discussed. They’re meeting with conferences – yes, plural – but I think they’re smart in taking their time. This isn’t a move you want to rush. Lowell’s quick rise into America East wasn’t without some hiccups. Merrimack seems to be doing its due diligence before making a decision on what their next move will be. From what I’ve heard, and reported, they’re exploring the move to Division I. Nothing has been finalized by the school other than remarks by some people in leadership – including Dr. Christopher Hopey, the college’s president – that they were exploring their options.

In my opinion, Division II seems like a large expenditure with little return. There’s more money to be made in Division I, and the cost of running a Division II program of Merrimack’s size is similar to running a small Division I program, only without some of the Division I benefit (more revenue sharing, specifically in basketball).

There’s also more opportunities to market the college as a Division I program. It’s been said that the move is part of their strategic plan to increase enrollment and build the brand.

Who is the starting goalie next year? (Rasmus) Tirronen? (Colin) Delia?

I don’t believe either will be anointed the starter out of the gate, unless there is an injury. Delia isn’t coming here to backup, he’s replacing Sam Marotta and should push for playing time right away. It’s funny this was asked, because I’m working on a column, with some statistical evidence to back up my point, that while the offense really struggled and let Merrimack down last season, the goaltending was let off the hook by people like myself, who kept focusing on the low scoring numbers.

Here’s a preview: Merrimack allowed its fewest shots per game of the last 12 seasons in 2014-15, but it’s team save percentage was the worst it has been since 2004-05 (.890). Tirronen, however, was 18 points better than the team average (.908), which if reflected on the number of shots the team allowed, would have meant almost 16 fewer opponent goals scored. If you use the expected-win formula, 16 fewer goals should have resulted in about 12 wins last season. That’s still well below a .500 record, but is four more wins than the Warriors actually posted. If you use that same formula with just a 2.0 goals per game average on offense, it makes it 13 expected wins.

The point is the goaltending, as a team, needs to post a save percentage around .910 or better for the Warriors to even be in contention. The offense needs to improve too, of course.

Any truth to the rumor that Michigan is coming into Lawler this year?

No. The schedule has already been released.

Isn’t it against NCAA regulations for a junior team (the Islanders) to be playing their games at Merrimack?

Obviously it isn’t. This isn’t the first time a junior team has played at a college rink. There have been teams that have used Matthews Arena (Northeastern) as home ice, I believe. I’m sure there are others, too. North Andover High School plays some home games at Merrimack, that’s not illegal.

Do you think college athletes, so hockey players, should be paid? They sacrifice so much to play and it’s basically a full-time job on top of school. Then they can’t even sign autographs at an autograph show?

Paid to play hockey? No. But if their likeness is used in a video game or on a jersey, then yes. The agreement between the college and player is that the college will provide a portion of the tuition – or all of it – in exchange for the player playing a sport. If the NCAA decides it’s going to sell a jersey with a player’s number or name on it, or put their likeness in a video game, that’s outside of the original agreement in my opinion. This isn’t so much an issue in hockey, but it’s certainly something that’s in the news when it comes to “big time” basketball and football programs.

And you’re right, it is a “full-time job on top of school.” … If you’re on a full scholarship at Merrimack, you’re essentially being given a benefit that’s nearing a $60,000 per year value.

I also believe that college athletes should be able to go to outside vendors, such as the local car dealer, and get paid for autograph sessions. Their likeness is their likeness. But should the colleges and universities be paying for the athletes to play? Absolutely not.

Any truth to the rumor that Merrimack has offered a scholarship to Ryan Shea (B.C. High defenseman)?

Yes. I’ve heard that Shea has offers from “several Hockey East schools” including Merrimack, UConn and Boston College. It appears that the offers from Merrimack and UConn are worth more, monetarily, at the moment.

How many players on Merrimack’s team are on full rides?

I have no clue. The team gets 18 scholarships, and there’s more than 18 players on the team, so there are plenty of players around the country who are paying a tuition while playing a sport. In fact, “full rides” are rarer than you probably would believe.

Give me your picks for All-Hockey East this year?

Really? It’s way too early for this, but here it goes … G – either Demko or Gillies, D – Matheson and Hutton, F – Eichel, Shore and Roy?

Who will show biggest improvement on Merrimack’s team from last year to this year?

I’ll give you two players: Hampus Gustafsson and Chris LeBlanc. Gustafsson was getting better as the year progressed and I’ve always believed the summer between your freshman and sophomore seasons is a big summer. LeBlanc was playing his best hockey of the year right before he got hurt.

What are your thoughts on them cutting so many guys this summer? Myers, Bates and Toomey would have been big-time scorers this year for them.

Shawn Bates was a senior last season and Josh Myers graduated. Connor Toomey showed flashes and went through a rough year last season. I think he’ll do great where he lands – hearing Plattsburgh State, which is a powerhouse in Division III. It’s not unusual for some housecleaning after a rough season like Merrimack endured in 2013-14.

2 Comments

  1. Mike, glad to see you shine a light on the goaltending woes last year. As well as Marotta played the year before, he was not the same guy last year and it really hurt the team. They lost a lot of 2-1, 3-2 style games last season that I believe they would have won with an elite goaltender — the kind of games they did win when Cannata was between the pipes. Colin Delia, Warrior Nation turns its lonely eyes to you…

  2. Love your passion for college hockey but I do need to ask you about this statement, “Lowell’s quick rise into America East wasn’t without some hiccups.”

    What hiccups were those? UML did extremely well considering they were fielding D2 lineups in all sports (apart from hockey obviously!). The mens basketball team did really well as did the baseball team.

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