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Mack’s Mailbag for Jan. 5, 2015

You can participate in Mack’s Mailbag by emailing Mike, sending him a question on Twitter or on his feed As you’ll see below, all questions are asked anonymously, unless you do so on Twitter, and then everyone can see you.

Do you think Merrimack has a chance to make the NCAA tournament?

The simple answer is yes, they do. They’re 16th in the Pairwise right now, which puts them on the bubble and just on the outside looking in, however with some wins in the second half of the season, they could put themselves in a position to be a tournament team. A 7-1-1 non-conference record is going to help considerably. A common misnomer is that you need to play the best of the best in non-conference play. Not when you play in Hockey East. If you win the majority of your non-conference games, which Merrimack has done, its league schedule is going to be strong enough that a record around .500 in Hockey East is going to put them, or anyone else in the league, in position to make the NCAA tournament. It’s not a guarantee, but they’ll be on the bubble at the very least. The most important factor is winning games. I’ve written it what feels like a million times before in this space, but it DOES NOT MATTER WHO YOU PLAY IN NON-CONFERENCE GAMES.

If you’re an Atlantic Hockey team, it does, because the league is not as strong. But in a typical Hockey East year, the league is strong enough that it will boost your standing in the Pairwise, as long as you’re slightly above average in the league, and have won most of your non-conference games.

Merrimack was the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament in 2010-11 as an at-large bid. Their non-conference schedule that season included Niagara (18-13-4 in AHA), UConn (15-18-4 in AHA), Harvard (12-21-1 in ECAC), Army (11-20-4 in AHA), RIT (19-11-8 in AHA) and two against Alabama-Huntsville (4-26-2 as an Ind.). Merrimack went 6-0-1 against those teams, and set themselves up for a No. 2 seed with a 16-8-3 record in the league. Vermont, a few years ago, made the tournament as an at-large despite finishing eighth in Hockey East.

Merrimack is 7-2-1 in its non-conference games this season, with two more next weekend against Quinnipiac. If they win more than they lose in Hockey East – including winning at least a first-round playoff series – they’ll be in the mix.

Will Merrimack ever host a season tournament?

I think this question has come up before. They can, there’s no reason why not. My guess is the process is easier now, with the new facility next door there are more locker rooms available. That’s always been the biggest issue at Merrimack. To host a tournament, one of the things you need is facilities for four teams. They never really had that with the previous configuration. It seems more easily attained now.

What are the prospects of Brett Seney getting drafted? What about Kolomatis? Anyone else that could be?

Kolomatis is too old to be drafted, and will be a free agent when his college career ends. Seney is eligible for the draft this June. Putting up the kind of numbers he has in the first half of the season, I believe, could see him picked in the mid-to-late rounds. He’s undersized for the pro game, but there are several NHL clubs now using their picks in the fifth, sixth and seven rounds as a way to stockpile players they see as potential college free agent targets. Seney definitely fits that mold.

Ethan Spaxman, a big defender who the Warriors have arriving next season, is also on several draft radars.

If a player is drafted, do you think that gives them more or less of a chance to keep them for four years?

Every case is different, but the most common thing we’re seeing with drafted players is that they play three years. Kyle Bigos and Joe Cannata are two examples of recently-drafted players out of Merrimack that played all four seasons.

From what I’ve observed, I think it’s easier to retain players when they are drafted. In most cases, college free agents sign early because teams want to lock up their rights. By doing so, they lose their NCAA eligibility, though. If a player is drafted, the NHL holds the rights and they don’t have to sign the player. It’s the best of both worlds for the NHL franchise.

There are 30 potential negotiating teams when you’re a free agent, and only one when you’re drafted.

The reason most players play three seasons when drafted has to do with the collective bargaining agreement. Under the CBA, NHL teams own the draft rights for a player for 30 days after the player leaves college, either by graduation or signing early. So by signing a player after their junior season, they guarantee the player will enter their system. By waiting for a player to play his senior season, the player could opt to simply wait 30 days after his graduation, and then become a free agent. Former Boston College forward Kevin Hayes took that route this past summer, neglecting to sign with the Chicago Black Hawks and agreeing to a deal with the New York Rangers as a free agent.

Should (Jack) Eichel win the Hobey? I feel like they never give it to freshmen?

The season isn’t over, but right now, Eichel would have my vote. No one has won the Hobey as a freshman since Paul Kariya. If there were an upperclassmen who was near Eichel’s production at this point, you would have more of an argument. Right now you could make arguments for Mike Vecchione or Daniel Ciampini. Many of the seniors we thought might be contenders early in the year haven’t risen to the top year. Austin Czarnik from Miami has 21 points, but only one goal, as a forward. Riley Barber is more in the conversation with 10 goals and 11 assists. If he continues his great start to the year, Cornell goalie Mitch Gillam will be talked about, along with perhaps Harvard goalie Steve Michalek, but right now it’s Eichel.

All that said, the Hobey committee can be a weird thing. There are plenty of examples where the award doesn’t go to the nation’s best player, but rather a very good player who has a sparkling reputation within the community. Right now, it’s a hard race to call.

Mike McMahon covers Merrimack College for The Eagle Tribune and is the founder and managing editor of The Mack Report as well as on staff as a senior writer at College Hockey News. Follow him on Twitter @MikeMcMahonCHN

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

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. classof87

    January 8, 2015 at 11:09 am

    this years team looks a lot different, than the last 2 years..the frosh have changed the way this team can play..seney is the best talent on the team its not even close, what a player young too..henning,lablanc, tibbet, can really fly, bring speed element team missed last year.lack skill in the upper class hurts still though, mostly grinders, but very good ones, smart play hard..Christie is the best upper class kid we have, hussar bit mystery, doesn’t move that well,but put up big numbers at Topeka.last year team looked very slow, unskilled with zero creativity.this year much improved because of the frosh skill, upperclass kids playing well too.would like to see more offense from scotti, hussar, singleton, jardine, buhe, but those kids play tough, block shots, smart in all zones..defensively team solid like the coach.great goaltending too, depth on defense is strength of this team..need to get more kids like seney with higher hockey i.q, skating, and creativity, but every team need kids like that not easy to find, need role player types as well, who can do the dirty work make room for the skill kids…compete level on this team very good, bit inconsistant cause so young.i like what dennehy did, he said he wanted to change the culture, got rid of some dead weight, and in one year changed the way we look.. sign of a very good coach.. team can beat anybody!! Minnesota win was huge!! tough league a lot one goal games ahead, team has outside shot at home ice, then maybe a trip back to the gahden..much better skating faster team than last 2 years, staff saw the problem and fixed it, still a lot work to go..

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