Without Missing a Stride
Merrimack's Rob Ricci Smoothly Transitions Back Into the Warriors' Lineup
by Theresa Spisak/CHN Reporter
A little rust is sometimes seen, if not expected, after a player sits out a year, whether it be from injury or, in the case of Merrimack's Rob Ricci, a suspension for violating am unspecified school policy and team rules.
However, the Hockey East 2005-06 All-Rookie Team selection got on the scoresheet his first game back with an assist, got two more the next night, and his first goal four games into the season, basically saying, "Rust? What rust?"
"He's not going to get last year back and I think a lot of times, whatever the reason, whether you're a transfer student or you have an injury or whatever the case is, when you miss an extended period of time, the tendency is to want to get that time back to make up for a whole year's worth of not playing," said Warriors head coach Mark Dennehy. "He's done a really good job of managing that.
"I've been amazed at how quickly he's scraped the rust off."
To Ricci, the transition has been easier than one might think.
"Even last year not playing, I was still a part of the team, so I was stepping in feeling pretty comfortable," he said. "I feel like I didn't miss too much."
As a result, the forward from Brampton, Ont., has averaged a point a game (4-8—12), is tied for seventh in league points and is well on course to surpass his freshman year totals (10-16—26). He also has proven to be one of the best faceoff men in the country, leading his team with a .552 winning percentage on draws.
"Faceoffs are an opportunity every time the puck drops for your team to win it and we all know it's easier to play with the puck than without it so when you have a guy with Rob's abilities in the faceoff [circle], it's key because you end up with the puck more often than not," said Dennehy.
"He could be one of the best all-around players in Hockey East. It helps in that he does so many things. He's so versatile, whether it's shaking things off, killing penalties, playing on the power play every so often.
"I'm amazed at how little time it's taken him to reactivate into college hockey," he reiterated.
Moreover, the Warriors' bench boss is glad Ricci stayed with the team and knows he learned his lesson.
"We're thrilled he thought enough of this program to stick around even though he wasn't able to play last year," Dennehy said. "He really put it to use. He's stronger, he's doing great in the classroom; he's been a leader on that front."
Besides still being part of the team last year, Ricci has his own thoughts on why he's already been an impact player.
"Everyone's been supportive," he said. "They know what kind of player I am so it's easier playing one year and stepping in than red-shirting your freshman year and stepping in.
"One thing me and the coaches talked about is trying to do too much, working the rust off, but obviously I want to prove to myself and the rest of my teammates that I want to be a big part of this team and help us go in the right direction."
And the Warriors are going in the right direction. For most teams, an early 6-5-1 record and mention in the "Others Receiving Votes" category in the polls wouldn't be much to talk about.
But, if you're a team that has won a total of nine games in the past two seasons, that record means a lot. For the Warriors, three of those wins came out of conference (one against Niagara and two against Bemidji State) — and meant for a short while, they were the only Hockey East team winning their non-conference matchups.
"We're just a lot more confident as a team," Ricci explained. "The early results we've gotten have led us to believe we can beat anyone in the league so that attitude has really helped us out a lot.
"It's been a while since Merrimack's been respectable so we're just trying to gain that back and ... we just want to prove to everyone that we are for real, you know?"
As long as Ricci remains rust-free and continues to shine, the Warriors should have no problem scraping off some postseason rust and make it into the playoffs for the first time in four years.