Five of a Kind
Merrimack Super Freshman Arrives in Style
by Mike McMahon/Staff Writer
Stephane Da Costa
Merrimack freshman Stephane Da Costa, after scoring five goals in just his second game.
Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy
Speaking after his team's win over Army, and about his prized recruit.
NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. It’s not often that hockey talents come from Paris, France. And it’s not often that a player scores five goals in a game, let alone just the second game of his career.
But Merrimack’s Stephane Da Costa isn’t a player that comes around all that often, either.
Da Costa, a highly-touted recruit, scored five of Merrimack’s six goals in Saturday’s 6-3 win over Army, including a natural hat trick, potting the games first three scores in a span of 10 minutes early in the first period.
“These games don’t happen too often,” said the soft-spoken center. “I’ve had (five goals) before, but that was back in France and that doesn’t really count; never scored that many at this high of level. It was pretty sweet.”
Sweet is an adjective that could be used to describe the phenom. Da Costa registered 11 of Merrimack’s 34 shots.
But shooting and scoring hasn’t been his only forte. Though he hasn’t registered an assist yet, Da Costa’s slick passing and playmaking abilities might be his best asset.
“When Magic Johnson first got to the NBA, he was breaking his teammates’ noses because they didn’t know the ball was coming,” said Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy, whose team improved to 2-2 with the win. “(Friday) night (against Holy Cross), he was giving pucks to our guys and they didn’t know it was coming. Tonight guys knew what to expect, that he can get you the puck, and as we go forward I hope that we’ll see more of it.”
There is a six-hour time difference between Paris and North Andover (the game started at 1 a.m. local time Sunday morning in Da Costa’s hometown), but Da Costa says his dad, no matter what, watches every game online.
“Yeah, he has seen every game since juniors,” said Da Costa, who also said he hadn’t yet checked his cell phone for text messages. “I’m sure I’ll have some.”
Da Costa was deemed ineligible by the NCAA earlier in the fall, after questions surrounding his academics in France.
“His eligibility was tough,” Dennehy said. “You have a kid who is from France, then went to school in Texas and Sioux City while playing juniors.”
The NCAA asked as part of earning his eligibility, that he score a certain level on the ACTs, which he had to take in English. Da Costa passed the test, despite not speaking the language when he came to North America for junior hockey in 2006.
“It was hard, but I passed,” he said. “My housing family when I played juniors was great with the language. They were from Quebec (and also spoke French). The rest I picked up as I went along. In the locker room I would listen to teammates, and my first year of juniors (2006-07 with the Texas Tornadoes) my teammates were great for speaking slower and making sure I understood.”
Da Costa continued, “It really took me six months or a year before I could understand, and then probably a year and a half before I could speak it very well.”
The struggles gaining his eligibility were especially frustrating for the 19-year old.
“Merrimack was helping me work on this for a year and a half,” he said. “It was frustrating not being able to play in North Dakota (in the season opening weekend last week).”
Teammates mobbed Da Costa when he recorded the hat trick just 13:36 into the first period (the first three goals of the game) and his fourth and fifth tallies he endured similar mob scenes. But once the game ended, the rookie found himself the victim of a friendly joke. After all, he’s still the new guy.
“We got back to the locker room and everyone just sat there,” he said. “They looked at me and said ‘we have nothing to say to you.’ It was pretty funny.”