The arrival of 16 freshmen adds optimism to 2019-20 season
North Andover, MA – On a warm early fall afternoon inside the 2,549 seat Lawler Rink second-year coach Scott Borek shouts instructions at his charges as they practice one on one defensive zone drills. At this point in the season Borek only has his players for four hours a week on the ice. Official practices don’t begin until October 5th, which also happens to be the first game-day of the season for the Warriors. Merrimack opens the season a thousand miles away from home in Sault Ste. Marie, MI. as they take on the Lake Superior St. Lakers of the WCHA.
A highly touted incoming crop of players infuses optimism into the Warriors program, which finished last year at 4-18-2 (7-24-3 overall) in last place in Hockey East. Despite being predicted to remain in the last spot in both the pre-season Coaches and Media Polls that hasn’t put a damper on the enthusiasm of coach or players.
“I like our skill level,” said Borek. “I think we move the puck well, they all can skate really well. Practices have been good and the guys have competed.”
The sound of pucks banging off the boards echos as the coach relates his initial thoughts on the freshmen thus far. “The one funny thing I didn’t anticipate, is some of the timidness at times. You have this big group of freshmen and when you recruit them they’re all very confident people. That’s why we recruited them. But when you get them in a college hockey room for the first time, I think they can get a little cautious and not as confident. Sometimes you don’t notice that with smaller freshman classes but I’ve noticed guys having to play through that and not be as cautious. Right now I think we have some guys who are thinking it through instead of just playing it through. That could take a few games for us to get past that caution but I like this team a lot and they’re practicing really hard.”
“What impresses me about this freshman group is how well they move the puck. We started practicing a power-play drill and, without us really talking about it much, the puck moved better than it did at probably any point all of last year. I think we have more guys comfortable playing in that situation, playing that type of game. Last year we were forcing guys into some of those spots, and this year I think — while they’re younger players — we have guys who are going to be more comfortable in those situations.”
Senior Tyler Irvine, a 5’-11” forward coming off a career high 18 points, said there will be a bit of a learning curve for the freshmen group. “They’re a really skilled class,” said Irvine. “We have a lot of skill players, hard workers, and it’s just going to be the jump to Hockey East. It’s a fast conference, but I think everyone’s going to make the jump fairly well. Practices and their pace are picking up. It’s going to be a fun year.”
Sophomore Chase Gresock led the Warriors with 24 points, Irvine had his 18pts., seniors Sami Tavernier had 16pts. and Patrick Kramer had 11pts., while sophomore Jordan Seyfert had 10pts.
Eight of the freshmen class of Liam Walsh, Hugo Esselin, Regan Kimens, Mac Welsher, Ben Brar, Joey Cassetti, Ryan Nolan, and Filip Forsmark look to add scoring punch from the forward postions. Declan Carlile, Jacob Modry, Zach Vinnell, Zach Uens and Liam Dennison will be in the mix to man the Warrior blue line. All three of the team’s goaltenders are incoming freshman as well. James Corcoran, Troy Kobryn, and Jere Huhtamaa will battle it out to grab the reigns in net.
Tavernier credits the upperclassmen with helping the young guys to mesh. “The returning classes did a great job over the summer,” said the Finnish national. “To integrate them, to get a good sense of who’s who, it was great to have everyone here this summer. We got tighter right away, we didn’t have to take care of that when coming in in September.”
One of the newcomers to the program, defenseman Declan Carlile is excited to get things under way. The 6’-2” left-handed shot comes highly touted, having led his junior club to their finals. “It feels good. It’s a big transition, coming to practice, understanding what to do, when to do it, waking up early in the morning, going to workout. I took a year off from school so getting back into going to school, going to my 8 AM, going to all my classes and getting my homework done. It’s been great and I’m just excited to be here.”
“I love the school, I love the campus,” said Carlile when asked what drove him to Merrimack. “I love the coaches here, I think they have the right mindset on what they want, we’re on similar wave-lengths. I love the rink, I love the smaller rink and it gets loud in here.”
“Hockey East has the name to it,” he said. “BC, BU, Providence, UMass, UMass-Lowell, all those teams, being able to play those teams every single year on a nightly basis definitely intrigued me to come here.”
Merrimack’s first home game is Saturday, October 12 when they host the Big Ten’s Wisconsin Badgers at 7:00 PM.