Ed. Note — This column will appear in Sunday’s edition of The Eagle Tribune
NORTH ANDOVER — There’s only one week left in the regular season, but yesterday’s game between Merrimack and BU was probably the first time Merrimack head coach Scott Borek had the team on the ice he thought he was going to have in September, when classes started on Merrimack’s North Andover campus.
The Warriors are now 4-4-2 in their last 10 games following yesterday’s 4-2 setback against the No. 8 Terriers. They’ve set aside a 1-7-0 start in December and January and the Warriors are 3-1-1 in their last five games, with the only loss coming yesterday.
Mind you, during that 1-7 start, Merrimack was without several key players.
“The biggest thing we need to do now, with those guys coming back, is find some chemistry,” Borek said. “We have had some chemistry amongst our other lines. We had guys who played hard and well together. Now we have more guys and more depth. I feel good about where we are. I feel good about getting the guys back that we’re getting back. If nothing else, it gives us more competition in practice.”
When the season started, Merrimack’s top defensive pairing — Zach Uens and Declan Carlile — were both out on COVID protocols. They didn’t return until after the semester break.
Max Newton, a transfer from Alaska Anchorage who is second on the team in points per game, didn’t arrive until the middle of January. Logan Drevitch missed time with an injury as did star freshman Alex Jefferies, who returned yesterday for his first action in almost a month.
Another top-four defenseman, Zach Vinnell, recently missed time with an injury. As did Chase Gresock.
Going off of recent lineup trends, five of Merrimack’s top-six forwards, and three of its top-four defensemen, had all missed action at some point in the first two months of the season.
Look at the list of top scorers, and you’ll notice that all five of Merrimack’s top-five scorers have missed time at various points.
On top of missing time, the Warriors started the season with two games against UMass (second place in Hockey East), four with Northeastern (fourth place), and two against Boston College (first place).
The recent trend upwards comes at a perfect time. The Warriors are currently eighth in Hockey East, and are looking to secure a home-ice spot in the first round of the Hockey East playoffs, which will begin in two weeks.
“We’re playing with more confidence,” Borek said. “We have found some chemistry with our lines. Liam Walsh, Logan Drevitch and Filip Forsmark have given us a real push. Benny Brar and Newton with Gresock, those two lines are playing really well. They’re playing so hard, and making the other team defend so hard, it’s opening up opportunities for the lines underneath them.
“Our team is playing together. We’ve found our identity and we’re playing to it. We’re playing together as a group.”
The Warriors will find out next weekend’s opponent by Tuesday, when it’s announced by the Hockey East office.
(8) Boston University 4, Merrimack 2 at Lawler Arena (8) Boston U (10-3-0): 1-1-2—4 Merrimack (5-11-2): 1-0-1—2 First Period: 1. MC Liam Walsh 7 (Patrick Holway, Filip Forsmark), ev, 7:34; 2. BU Markus Boguslavsky 4 (Wilmer Skoog, Robert Mastrosimone), ev, 16:51. Second Period: 3. BU Case McCarthy 1 (Jay O'Brien), ev, 5:50. Third Period: 4. BU Logan Cockerill 5 (Robert Mastrosimone), ev, 5:46; 5. MC Filip Forsmark 4 (Zach Vinnell, Patrick Holway), ev, 6:47; 6. BU Robert Mastrosimone 3 (Jay O'Brien), ev, 14:48. Shots: Merrimack 9-8-10—27; Boston U 9-10-10—29 Saves: MC Borgiel (4GA) 8-9-8—25; BU Commesso (2GA) 8-8-9—25 Power Play: Merrimack 0 for 3; Boston U 0 for 3 Penalties: Merrimack 4-8:00; Boston U 4-8:00