Merrimack Searches for Consistency

Merrimack College travels to No. 2 Boston College Friday night at Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill. Heading into the weekend, Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy had his regular media availability on Thursday.

Mike McMahon: I’m going to skip around a little bit and hit on a few different topics, but first I wanted to talk about line changes. You have been able to find some consistency in the lines, some units stay together more than others. At this point in the year, is that something you want to see? Is the preference to be at a point, as we get into early February, where you know what your lines are?

Mark Dennehy: “We need to find consistency in our play first, then that will translate into lineups. We try to put guys together who we think have a good feel, but there needs to be a level of consistent play. When you have players whose best games and worst games vary to such great extents, we can’t play them with guys whose best games and worst games are still pretty good. You have a guy like Mikey Collins, who has been here for three-and-a-half years, and his best game and worst game, there isn’t much difference. There is a small differentiation. Some guys on our roster, when they play well, they play well. When they play poorly, it’s (terrible). So, it’s tough to find a consistent lineup, it’s tough to put that together, if you don’t have consistent play.

“You hope you would have some consistency in the lineup at this point, but that’s been one of our biggest issues: our play has varied so greatly. You look at Friday and Saturday night, and you could also say home and away, but there have been some games where we just flat out stunk. So we stunk on Friday at Quinnipiac, then we came back on Saturday and played well. We stunk on Friday at UMass, then we came back on Saturday and played well. You can’t chalk it up to home and away, to me it’s just performance, and there’s too much of a variance in our play.

MM: One of the guys you have been able to put up on that line with Collins is Bahe. He has some speed there and it seems, since he was up there, that it opened him up for some more offensive chances, or it at least gave him more chances to use that speed. Is that a result of being a little more open on that line, or just that being on a line with Collins calls for him to do some different things than on another line, specifically having more of an offensive mindset. 

MD: “I don’t know if it opens him up as much as there is someone there who can find him. Mikey draws so much attention, and he also sees plays before they develop, which went well with him finding Benny when he uses his speed. That’s one of the things we’re working on, finding that next play. I tell our guys all the time, everyone in the arena knows where the puck is. You don’t have to be a good hockey player to know where the puck is, but the good hockey players know where it’s going. That’s something we’ve struggled with. Benny has good hockey sense and good timing and Mikey has been able to find him. Toomey has been in that situation before and he’s done OK, Myers has been decent there too. The common variable is Mikey; and speed. All three of those guys have speed.”

MM: It’s obviously a case then, and we hear about it a lot, but Mike is the type of player that makes guys around him better. That’s usually a testament of a pretty great player.

MD: “Absolutely. He has great vision, good puck poise and he sees that next play, where a lot of guys don’t. Benny has good hockey sense and good speed, which is why we put him there. We’d like to see him work a little harder on finishing those opportunities. He should, if he’s playing decent, get a lot of them, but we’d like to see him work on finishing and he is. He’s working on his shot, which is good, and just little things like making a move to freeze that goalie a little bit. A lot of times he skates it right at the goalie, which limits his area to shoot at.”

MM: In looking for other guys who, like you said, know where the puck is going, is that something you attack by video with guys? Or, how do you, or can you even teach something like that?

MM: “It’s very hard to do. Kids get hardwired at a pretty young age. Anyone involved in youth hockey, if someone isn’t putting the puck in the right place it’s because the kid either doesn’t see it or he’s selfish, and most times the kids can’t just see it. It’s tough. It’s something very hard to teach.

“Sometimes it’s just the speed. We think Vinny Scotti can be one of those next-play players, he sees the ice really well. But there are times where it gets too fast for him, and he’s working on improving his speed and strength, but he’s one of those guys too. What we like about the Gustafsson brothers and LeBlanc is that we think they can be next-play players. Hampus and Chris both see plays. We watch the video from this past Saturday, that line spent the majority of their time in the offensive end, so that’s a line we’re excited about seeing ahead.”

MM: In terms of those guys, they’re younger. Do you look for a certain time in their development for them to make a jump? I imagine the summer between freshman and sophomore year is a big one. 

MD: “There’s a portion with your freshman where they might hit a wall, but then they seem to get it and take that next step and I’ve seen that in Lashyn, Hampus and Chris. They have all shown what they can be. I really don’t know until halfway through a guy’s sophomore year if he’s going to be a difference maker. Is he a guy who can change games? With some guys it’s earlier, but after halfway through their sophomore year you get a good sense of who they are going to be.

MD: Looking at your roster then, do you think it’s fair to say that you think you might have more of those next-play players developing in your freshman and sophomore class than you have in your junior and senior classes? Obviously you have Mike there, and there are other guys too, but just in general and especially up front.

MD: “You look at a guy like Brian Christie, and up until this weekend he was a point-per-game guy. He’s someone we think we can build around. Danny Kolomatis has emerged and Justin Mansfield has done a good job. There are some guys in those classes who we thought could be those next-play type of guys and when given the opportunity, they didn’t get it done for whatever reason but that doesn’t mean they’re not going to be. It just means it might not be a normal development with them and it might take a little longer.”

MM: And you’ve seen that in other guys, too. Ryan Flanigan is a guy that comes to mind who really late in his junior year became a force offensively after not scoring many points his first two years.

MD: “But he also worked at it a lot and cared about it a lot. That’s one of the things we’re working on is that identity, and living it on a daily basis. Ryan lived it. He had focus. He knew what he wanted and he went after it.”

MM: Looking at this weekend, you’ve seen BC, you know what they are. Are there things this weekend, outside of just getting a win, that you want to see accomplished this weekend?

MD: “There’s a lot of things we’d like to see. There are two Hockey East points on the line. Regardless of what has happened prior – and your record only tells you where you have been, not where you’re going – and I know we haven’t won there in a long time, but it’s a new day. There’s two points on the line.

“We need to get out on a better start in games. It’s almost like we need to be down a goal to get our attention. We need to be ready to go from the get-go. You don’t beat good teams with less than a 60-minute effort.

“We want to see continued development in our special teams. I thought we did a good job killing against them in that first game and while we didn’t get a power-play goal, we got some good looks. Our power play has been good of late and we want to continue that.

“Then we want to take some more steps with solid goaltending. It needs to be an area of strength for us, and at times it has and I still think it can be, but again it’s finding that consistency.”

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