NORTH ANDOVER — Scott Borek joined in the celebration, but only for a moment.
Merrimack College announced its elevation to Division I athletics across the board last Thursday, joining the Northeast Conference, and Borek was there for the big event, taking a seat near the back of the gym. As soon as the cannons exploded with the blue and gold streamers, Borek returned to his office above Lawler Rink … it was back to work.
It’s been a busy summer for Borek and his staff, which includes associate head coach Curtis Carr and assistant coach Josh Ciocco. Last week during the Division I celebration that filled Merrimack’s gym, Carr was on the road recruiting.
But that’s been the norm. Rarely have the three of them been together as a staff on campus. There’s talent to find, and they’re out combing North America — and beyond — for the next generation of Merrimack hockey players.
When they are home, the work never stops. Borek said he’s up by 5 a.m. most days getting ready for what lies ahead, which usually includes some type of recruiting on top of prepping this year’s team for the upcoming season.
“Mission Merrimack” is the mantra, and he’ll ask people around his program daily what they’re doing to help accomplish that mission.
“We are on a mission,” Borek said. “Mission Merrimack. We’re trying to transform our program, and we’ve been busy all summer. There weren’t many days that all three of us were in the office. If at least one of us wasn’t on the road recruiting, it was strange. And we weren’t in the same place. We’ve hit the ground running.
“Mission Merrimack applies to everyone. This is a group effort. I’ll ask Curtis what he did for Mission Merrimack today, and I’ll ask Josh. I’ll ask our ticket manager what he’s doing for Mission Merrimack today. This is about all of us, from the coaches to the staff to the players and everyone involved in the program.”
Recruiting Takes Off
Recruiting is at the heart of soul of any solid hockey program, and the recruiting effort Borek and his staff are putting in is paying off. The Warriors have received verbal commitments from 12 players since Borek was hired in April, including some potential standout offensive players.
Just this past Monday, Mark Hillier committed from Newfoundland, choosing the Warriors over several Hockey East and Division I offers. Joseph Cassetti, a former BC recruit, committed last month; he’ll be the just the second U.S. National Team Development Program alum to play for the Warriors after former goaltender Joe Cannata.
Speaking of goaltenders, the Warriors have added two future netminders since Borek arrived. Christian Stoever is slated to arrive next season from Cedar Rapids (USHL) while Jere Huhtamaa is projected to arrive in 2020 from Finland.
Then there’s Matthew MacDonald, an edgy 2002-born player from Boston Advantage. The Warriors have also added Liam Walsh, who will captain Cedar Rapids in the USHL this season, as well as Michael Brown, who was a top New England prep defenseman last season.
Defenseman Evan McIntyre was highly sought after and forward Casey Severo also chose the Warriors over other Hockey East suitors.
That doesn’t even include players who were already committed when Borek took over, thanks in large part to the recruiting effort put in by Carr during the transition. Kevin Wall looks to be one of the better scorers in the BCHL this season and Declan Carlile is on NHL Draft radars, along with Zach Uens and Alex Jefferies. Jonathan Young is a highly-regarded local player (New Hampshire), who the Warriors committed amongst other Hockey East competition, and he’ll play his first full season in the USHL this upcoming season with Youngstown.
“I can’t talk about players specifically,” Borek said, “but we’ve targeted strong players. I like the depth of our team this year. We’re trying to re-shape some things on the fly, but it will be a process. I think we’re being a little more ambitious in recruiting. We realize we’re not going to hit on every player we target, but no one does. I credit Curtis Carr for the job he did recruiting before I got here, and he had to re-recruit almost all of our guys during the coaching transition, which is normal, but he did an incredible job.”
One player Borek added to this year’s roster not long after he took the job was forward August Von Ungern-Sternberg. After suffering an injury during the Royal Bank Cup last season, Von Ungern will be out of action for at least the first few months of the regular season, but when he returns, Borek said he will be an integral part of this recruiting class.
“I really like this class a lot,” he said. “We have some players who I think can come in and help us. August is right at the top of that list. Hopefully we can get him back sooner rather than later, because I think he flew under the radar for a lot of teams.”
The Warriors also added Tyler Heidt, who was injured for most of last season in the SJHL but if healthy, many believed he could have been one of the league’s top players.
“He has a very good stick,” Borek said. “Josh knew a lot about him and watched him, and he flew under the radar because he got injured. He has a good skill set and we think he can play solid minutes for us right away.”
Filling Out The Staff
Borek was very particular when filling out his coaching staff. He knew he liked Carr, and he wanted him to stay.
“I saw what Curtis was doing here, and I knew I wanted him to stay,” Borek said. “But, it’s tough. I feel bad, because I know I’m going to demand a lot. If we want to get where we want to be, we’re all going to be on the road a lot. Curtis has a family with young kids, I’ve been through that, and I wanted to make sure his family was on board too, and thankfully they were. He’s a huge part of what we’re doing.”
Borek then targeted Ciocco, who he coached at New Hampshire when he was on Dick Umile’s staff.
“Josh is single and he has shown a love for the road,” Borek said. ” I told him that it might be Christmas Eve, if we need him to get on a plane and go meet a player somewhere, he has to be available. He was excited about coming to Merrimack and building something special. Since I have known Josh he has been competitive and a winner.”
The Warriors then added Jim Tortorella in a revamped Director of Hockey Operations role. But not long after he was hired at Merrimack, Harvard head coach Ted Donato tabbed Tortorella as an assistant coach.
Borek knew what he wanted in the position, and he identified Assumption head coach Lance Brady as a perfect fit.
“With Hockey Ops, we’re creating a quality control coach,” he said. “It’s almost like a college hockey GM role. That person is going to be a huge part of our staff and they’re going to run our video. Jim was great because he is so good with details, after I worked a camp with Lance over the summer I noticed that about him as well. We are really lucky to have him.”
Borek said the Warriors are going to re-shape some things around Lawler Rink as well. In the very near future, there will be some modifications made to the recently-renovated locker room.
“One of the things that players care about today is how we’re going to develop them,” Borek said. “Every recruit we walk through that locker room wants to know how we are going to make them better hockey players. We want to move some things around and create more teaching space. “When you’re in this building, you’re a hockey player.”
The ultimate goal, Borek said, is to build a highly successful and sustainable program. He knows the mold well, coaching at Providence College the last three seasons where the Friars have been one of the top teams in the nation.
“I learned so much from Nate (Leaman),” Borek said. “Just the way they go about their day, the way they go about recruiting and the type of player they target. We would like to bring a more defined approach as well.
“The goal is to build something similar here. I said it at my press conference, and I’m serious — the goal here is championships. Nothing less. No fear.”