March 12, 2010 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Dennehy Weaving a Winner at Merrimack

by Joe Meloni/CHN Reporter

BOSTON — The story for most of the season surrounding Merrimack has centered around Stephane Da Costa. The shifty winger from Paris has dangled and passed and shot his way into the national spotlight.

That tiny program from the tiny town in the tucked away Northeast corner of Massachusetts earned its first appearance in the Hockey East tournament since 2003-04, and the national media can’t help but praise Merrimack’s remarkable freshman for their success.

It’s justified, too. Entering last night, his point totals for the season stood at 44 on 15 goals and 29 assists. Behind Da Costa, though, there’s a story, though. Not the story of how he got there or the long road he took to gain eligibility. Everyone knows that one already.

It’s the man who made it happen.

Mark Dennehy arrived in Merrimack prior to the 2005-06 season after five years helping Don “Toot” Cahoon author the rebirth of the hockey program at Massachusetts.

Even in the earliest stages of his tenure with the Warriors, Dennehy saw something. The losses piled on as they had in the years before he took the program over, but the ever-calm coach coolly stood there – arms folded, just waiting.

He saw it in Amherst, and he remembered the way to get there. It takes a mindset, then it takes time and, most importantly, it takes recruiting. The right athletes in the right system with the right man guiding them can go anywhere.

In the earliest stages of the 2009-10 season, it seemed like the athletes had arrived. Da Costa’s five-goal night against Army raised a few eyebrows, and rotating back and forth between senior Andrew Braithwaite and sophomore Joe Cannata kept them in games.

The 6-3-0 start that included consecutive wins over Boston College and Boston University quickly turned into a 9-15-0 record thanks to a winless December and a 2-5-0 January. Different players, same results, it seemed as the Warriors plummeted back to Earth.

But Dennehy knew how to keep his team sharp. There will be highs and lows but making it clear that the only record that matters is the one following the season’s final game kept his team focused.

Following a 5-1 loss to Northeastern on Feb. 5, the Warriors posted a 6-2-2 record, that, thanks to some serious nosedives from Massachusetts and Vermont, resulted in the sixth seed in the Hockey East Tournament.

BU coach Jack Parker, surprised in his own right to be hosting a quarterfinal series following his team’s dreadful 4-9-3 start, commented following his team’s regular season finale that he wanted anyone but Merrimack. Even after the Terriers defeated Merrimack, 3-2, Friday night in the Game 1 of their best-of-three series, it seemed like Parker was little uneasy.

“This is not your father’s Merrimack College hockey team,” he said. “This is a very, very good college hockey team. We already found that out three times [during the regular season].”

“I think [Dennehy’s] done a great job as the coach of the program. From the time he got there, he’s just added, added and added more talent. They’ve always played hard. But they play hard, and now they have talent. They have two or three guys who are as good as anybody’s forwards in the league, a couple of star defensemen and great goaltending.”

Even with the improved talent, though, Dennehy isn’t particularly pleased just to be here. He knows a quick exit is the expectation, and he knows Hockey East fans are already drooling over the possibility of the 1 billionth meeting between BC and BU that will happen in the Hockey East Semifinals if both teams close their series out tomorrow night – the Eagles defeated UMass, 6-5, in Game 1 of their series Friday night.

“I know the grounds crew here thinks it’s only going to be one more game, at least that’s what they said as I walked by,” Dennehy said following the game. “The Merrimack team expects to come tomorrow and show itself well. The best part about this time of year is if you win a game you automatically earn the right to play another game.”

He expects his team to come out tomorrow and play hard like they did on Friday, but he won’t be satisfied with just a good effort. The effort was there on Friday, but the win didn’t come.

“I guess that’s playoff hockey. It was a street fight out there. I think the guys represented themselves pretty well. It was a hard-fought game,” he said.

BU’s 1-0 series lead doesn’t worry Dennehy terribly, though. All it means is the Warriors have to win tomorrow; and, thanks to Dennehy, they know they can do that now.

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