NORTH ANDOVER – Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy held media availability on Wednesday, prior to Merrimack’s weekend set of games at the Liberty Hockey Invitational Tournament in New Jersey. Below is a transcript of the Q&A interview.
(Ed. Note – recorded on Oct. 29, 2014)
Mike McMahon: We didn’t get a chance to talk last weekend about the Mercyhurst games, so what was your impression of those two games on the whole, the entire weekend.
Mark Dennehy: “The ability to score goals is nice. It’s a luxury to a certain extent. We obviously never said die. We played as hard as we could the entire game both nights. Friday we gave up a lead with under a minute left but win it in overtime and then on Saturday, we’re down 3-0 and came close to tying it up, so that’s a positive.
“I still think we’re trading too many chances. We’re not as tight defensively as we need to be. I think we need to be more patient with the puck. I think we’re turning the puck over with too much frequency, and in bad spots. But we did some really good things. Saturday’s first period was as good a period as we’ve played. We had the puck the majority of the period. Saturday’s second period was as sloppy as we’ve played. It was right up there. There was good and there was bad.”
MM: Do you look at Saturday in particular as a learning experience for some of your younger guys, where you are a younger team? In the sense that you obviously got away from what was making you successful earlier this season, and it came back to bite you.
MD: “It remains to be seen if it will be a learning experience or not, they need to learn from it for it to be a learning experience. To be honest, there were some upperclassmen who played poorly as well, it wasn’t just our freshmen guys taking the game too lightly. We, as a team, didn’t play with the same sense of urgency we would have a Hockey East game and that’s a mistake against a good team like Mercyhurst, especially in their rink.”
Last week you mentioned that they play a little differently, I think you compared them to Lowell especially in the way they pressure the points, how did you feel your guys were able to manage that aspect of the two games?
MD: “I thought we were good in that respect. The bigger issue was that we were turning pucks over, and we were on the wrong side of pucks. So when we turned the puck over, they had numbers on us. When we had possession and we were able to use the points, we were spreading the zone and did a good job for large stretches of the weekend. It was more about when we had it down low, we were trying to force things. We were giving up too many numbers. We need more defensive integrity to our game.”
MM: You gave Delia his first start on Saturday, what were your thoughts on what you say from him?
MD: “I thought he played okay. I didn’t think he played great, and I didn’t think he played poorly. I would give him a B. What I like about him is that he’s calm. He does not get rattled. He did a good job of managing the game. He made a few nice saves. I think the second goal he’d probably want back. I think he believes he could have stopped that one, and I do too. But all-in-all, he gave us a chance to win. Us losing was not because of him.”
MM: Was the plan going into the weekend to use both your goalies?
MD: “No. We were playing it by ear. Ras was getting the start on Friday, and he had been playing well.
“God forbid something happens to Ras, we need to make sure Collin is ready to go. And I also thought he earned the ice. He has been playing better. He’s getting more comfortable. He’s a goalie who we think can be really good. It wasn’t necessarily our plan, but Collin is ready for some ice time for sure.”
MM: It’s not a postseason tournament, but you have a few regular-season tournaments in your schedule, including this weekend. Do you like playing in tournaments like this? Is it good preparation for playoffs at all when you have a trophy you’re playing for?
MD: “I do. But I don’t want to get carried away. Every game is important. We want to go about that championship game, if we’re in it, no different than the first game of the season. First, we need to beat a good UConn team to get there. But Friday’s game is a game. We need to be ready to play. There will be a trophy handed out on Sunday, it would be nice to win it, but I’m more concentrated on Friday’s game. Playing well on Friday.”
MM: What do you take away from that first UConn game a few weeks ago? You played pretty well in that game, won it late, but what do you want to see improved upon from that game going into Friday’s?
MD: “I want to get off to a better start. We turned the puck over too much in the first period, especially in the middle of the rink. We weren’t being pressured and we were just throwing it around a little bit. We were much better in the second and third period.
“The Nichols kid is playing well, so scoring goals is tough. They haven’t given up many. They’re playing good defense. You don’t want to not be ready to go and give them a lead. We need to be ready to go and put together a good 60-plus minutes.”
MM: Has there ever been consideration to hosting a tournament at Merrimack? Now that you have the bigger facilities, I think there was a rumor a few years back that it was something being looked into.
MD: “I’d like to see us do something over Thanksgiving weekend. I would like to do it. It’s a prime weekend for hockey. Hockey in the Merrimack Valley is hopping. I think that Thanksgiving weekend would be a great weekend to do something.”
MM: Another scheduling thing, I saw last week that series you guys have coming up with Clarkson and St. Lawrence, where you and UNH are teaming up to play ECAC travel partners. Do you think that’s another way to get some games from the ECAC? To take Hockey East schools, pair up, and play a couple of ECAC teams like you are with UNH, Clarkson and St. Lawrence?
MD: “It’s a good arrangement, but it’s hard. The travel partners when I was at Princeton was Yale and Princeton, and that’s a tough trip. You can do Colgate and Cornell, but that’s not easy either. So it’s something we’d like to do, but it’s sometimes hard, logistically, to get it done.”
MM: I know we’ve talked about scheduling before, but now that you’re two years into the realignment with more non-conference games, has the task become easier or more difficult? Is it easier in that there are more games to schedule, so maybe schools have more holes open in their schedules? Or was it difficult before, and more games just makes it more difficult?
MD: “I think it’s harder now. Not every team in Division 1 college hockey will play an Atlantic League team. Some haven’t at all. Then all of a sudden with the gluttony of games, people need to fill up their schedule.
“The Atlantic league has been smart about this. They play fewer non-conference games than most other conferences, I believe, so they don’t have as many games to give. Now they have more suitors, so more people looking, and less games to give. We haven’t been able to get as many of those guys on our schedule as we have in the past and we have more games to fill.
“Then there are just some schools, and I don’t think I’m speaking out of school, but there are some schools that don’t play as many road non-conference games because they don’t have to and it would be a financial loss for them to do that. They make too much money at home, and they can afford to pay teams to come play them.”
MM: I think we talked a little about this last week, but Hampus Gustafsson is second in the league in face-offs now. It’s an important part of the game, but what have you seen from him and what has be done to improve in that area?
MD: “If we’re a puck possession team, winning possession off the bat is important. You aren’t going to win every face-off, but you can’t lose them cleanly. It’s nice to have him. He’s worked at it a lot.”
MM: What are some of the things that he has worked on?
MD: “We have worked with him on getting lower. He’s a big guy, and even when he bends over he’s still high. Shorter guys can sometimes get leverage by really getting low on him, so he’s worked on getting low himself. Widening out and getting a deeper knee bend, but he works hard on it. He’s a focused young man and very driven.”
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