After hosting the Minutemen on Friday, Merrimack will travel to UMass, and it’s big ice sheet, on Saturday night to close out a home-and-home series.
Merrimack College will host UMass on Friday night in the opening game of a home-and-home series with the Minutemen. On Saturday, the Warriors will take the two-hour plus drive to Amherst and the Mullins Center, home to one of two Olympic-sized ice sheets in Hockey East; UNH’s Whittemore Center houses the other.
The last time the Warriors played on an Olympic sheet, which is roughly 15 feet wider than a typical NHL-sized rink, the Warriors beat the University of Minnesota, 3-2, before falling to UMass Lowell 3-1 the next night in the Mariucci Classic championship game.
In those two games, the Warriors controlled just 34.03 percent of the possession (shot attempts were 157-81), and were outshot 86-39 through two games.
Of course, Minnesota (19th in the Pairwise) and UMass Lowell (9th in the PWR) are also two of the top teams in the nation.
“Possession is so distinct on an Olympic-sized sheet, and we didn’t work hard enough to maintain it,” Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy said last week, when reflecting on the Minnesota trip. “When (Minnesota and Lowell) had it, both teams, they do a good job of protecting it and moving it and spreading it, that it becomes hard to get it back.
“I didn’t think we did a good job on that sheet. We did a good job of defending, but we didn’t do a good job of putting ourselves in position to get the puck back, and when we did, I don’t think we worked hard enough to keep it.”
The two games against Minnesota (32.74%) and Lowell (35.20%) were Merrimack’s two worst possession games of the year.
“You just have to play,” Dennehy said following Merrimack’s 2-1 loss to Boston College on Wednesday. “Yeah, they are good on their sheet. They’re built for their sheet. You’re also going to have more time with the puck, so it’s just a matter of taking care of the puck. You’re going to have to spend some time defending, but if you do a good job when you have the puck, you’ll be fine. There will be some ebb and flow. Just be patient when you don’t have it and stay inside. Pressure them when you can and try to outnumber them when you can to try to get it back, and then when you have it, you need to do good things with it. You need to use each other.”
In an attempt to spark offense during that Minnesota trip, the Warriors utilized the stretch, keeping one winger in the neutral zone. Merrimack didn’t go to the stretch much against Quinnipiac, if at all, and the play didn’t seem to be utilized against Boston College.
At the time, Dennehy said he was just looking for a spark.
But defensively, Merrimack was more than fine on that larger ice surface. The shot attempts were high, but much of that can be attributed to more space to shoot the puck. The Warriors blocked 30.26% of the shots (23 of 76) that Minnesota attempted, which was their second best total of the season (41.46% against UConn in Newark on Oct. 31 is the best).
Merrimack’s team save percentage in those two games, on a larger ice, was .942.
The Warriors struggled with traffic in the game against Lowell – both of Dylan Zink’s goals were scored from the point – but kept the majority of both Minnesota and Lowell’s chances, at even strength, on the outside of the dots or from beyond the tops of the circles.
“They need to come back to the net at some point,” Dennehy said. “That’s where all the goals scored. As long as you’re good in that area, you’ll be good. With our goaltending especially.”
Keeping the Good Starts Rolling
Merrimack is 6-2-2 in Friday games this season and 6-2-1 in the first of back-to-back games, a trend the Warriors will look to continue at home against UMass this Friday.
In Friday home games, the Warriors are 3-1-1, with the only loss coming in overtime to Notre Dame on Nov. 15.
“We’ve been at home often (on Friday), and we’re good at home,” Dennehy said. “It’s always good to win that first one. You can’t sweep without winning the first one. We have some work to do before Friday. We’ll watch some video (Wednesday night) and get back after it (Thursday) for a Hockey East opponent.”
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