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How a starting lineup became inspirational
Ed. Note — This story ran in Thursday’s edition of The Eagle Tribune. You can view the story on the Eagle-Tribune’s website by clicking here.
Merrimack College hockey was in one of those mini-funks.
The nationally-ranked Warriors had lost three straight one-goal games to Vermont, UNH and Maine, three teams in the bottom five of Hockey East.
Even worse. They were games all lost in overtime, which adds to the pain.
Merrimack wasn’t in a horrific state of mind, per se, but the pizzazz this team had had for most of this winter was missing, thought coach Scott Borek.
So he tried to add some “pizzazz” beginning with the next game, which was against Merrimack against Boston University.
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“Every pregame we have one of our managers announce the starting lineup,” said Borek. “We coaches thought we’d change it up for this game.”
Borek called Navy Seal John MacDonald based in Connecticut. He had worked with Merrimack players on team-building exercises back in September for a few days.
Putting the team through many physical and mental challenges, he was a big hit with the team.
When MacDonald showed up to read the starting lineup, the team whipped into a frenzy, recalled Borek.
“It launched us onto the rink,” said Borek.
Merrimack scored just over five minutes into the game and never looked back in the 5-1 win over the first place Terriers.
A week later, before Merrimack hockey’s Senior Night against UMass Lowell, Borek had another dandy waiting for “the boys” in the locker room.
This time it was Jody Ciocco, the father of former Merrimack assistant coach Josh Ciocco, who passed away suddenly, five days before the season opener.
Jody and his wife flew into town and stayed at coach Borek’s house.
“It was amazing,” said Borek. “Jody was incredible. It really was special.”
Merrimack scored 1:15 into that game, eventually getting a 2-0 first period lead over Lowell, which tied the game in the second period before the Warriors won 5-3.
Borek’s third crack at the apple may have been his best, as Merrimack was preparing to host Boston College in the Hockey East Tournament quarterfinal.
Four nights earlier, Merrimack men’s basketball won the school’s first ever NEC Tournament championship, drawing a full house in Lawler Arena, including most of the Merrimack hockey team.
“There were 200 students that ran on the floor,” recalled Borek. “And 20 of them had to be hockey players. There is a lot of Merrimack pride going on and the coaches are very close, rooting each other on.”
In other words, Borek had men’s basketball coach Joe Gallo do the starting lineup honors.
“The team exploded when they saw Joe,” said Borek. “And he was amazing. He was very energetic, which we’ve seen him get sometimes after big wins. It really was amazing.”
While it took almost five periods to score, with Merrimack, now 22-12-2, beating B.C., 1-0 in double-OT.
But, said Borek, the starting lineup readers have all been inspirational in their own way.
Which begs the question: What about tonight’s game at the T.D. Garden, against UMass Lowell in the Hockey East Tournament semifinals.
I mean, Merrimack is 3-0 when a special, unannounced guest reads the starting lineup during pregame.
“I’m not sure yet,” said Borek. “I know it would be tough to top the one’s we’ve had already. Who knows?”
You can email Bill Burt at email@example.com.