'Emblematic' of a Warrior
Flanigan's new-found offense leads Merrimack
by Mike McMahon/Staff Writer
NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. Merrimack's resident wrecking ball, Ryan Flanigan, has taken pleasure in rattling opponents throughout Hockey East.
At just 175 pounds, it's hard to imagine he'd leave much of a dent, but pasting opponents to the boards has been a staple since his freshman season. And "chirping" opponents, a hockey term for trash talking, has always been a big part of his repertoire.
For two-plus years, Flanigan bounced around the ice like a pinball shot out of a cannon, hitting anything and everything in sight.
What a difference a year makes.
The senior winger still very much enjoys throwing his weight around, but now, he's added some scoring touch, leading a surging Merrimack squad with 10 points this season and scoring the game-winning goal over Northeastern in overtime last Saturday.
"Early on in his career he was so beavered up to make a physical impression," head coach Mark Dennehy said. "The first couple of games he was like a great white shark hunting prey. I would watch tape and find him on the opposite side of his wing just smoking some winger and the kid was like 'where is this guy coming from?' He carved out a niche himself and stuck in our lineup."
In Flanigan's first 72 career games, he potted a modest 20 points, but left countless bodies crumpled in his path.
Since the second half of last season, though, he has traded in some penalty minutes for points on the scoreboard.
After the Warriors returned from Christmas break last December, his offensive production skyrocketed, tripling his career point total, scoring 40 points in his last 31 games.
He leads the Warriors with eight points this season 5 goals, 5 assists) and is the only Merrimack player to have a point in every game.
Alongside linemates Carter Madsen and Elliott Sheen, he was part of a trio that was arguably Merrimack's best forward unit during last year's stretch run.
Dating back to last season, Flanigan has points in each of the Warriors last 15 games and in Merrimack's eye-opening postseason run, he led the team with six goals and 11 points in five games, scoring a goal in every contest.
"I can't really explain it," he said. "We just had more opportunities at the end of last year and Coach had more confidence in our line and things just started clicking."
Flanigan's goals are typically a result of good old-fashioned hard work.
Most of his line's offense is created off the cycle, with the puck pinned deep in the opposing zone, winning battles along the boards and then springing chances in front.
Flanigan, along with Madsen and Sheen, "personify" how Merrimack wants games to take shape, according to Dennehy.
And it's hard what they've been able to do.
"We play out best when we keep the puck down low," Flanigan said. "We support each other down there and get pucks to the net. It's about sticking to what our line does well and moving it down low is what does well for us."
He's also developed some flash.
"We talked to him a lot about moving his feet," Dennehy said.
And Flanigan has listened.
A popular play of his down the wing is to slip the puck through an opponents legs on the rush, hop to the other side and zip a shot on goal.
"He makes really nice plays in tight areas," Dennehy said. "That's what the pros like about him."
But amidst all of his recent offensive accolades, Flanigan is still the same player.
He hits, he chirps, and now, he scores.
"He's emblematic of how we want to play," Dennehy said. "He's a blue-collar player. He's self made. Now with some consistency (on offense) he is finding confidence."