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Hockey East Preview: #8 Merrimack Warriors; KAEO Dennis Kravchenko

Hockey East Preview: #8 Merrimack Warriors

2011-12 Storyline: Despite reaching the #1 ranking early in the season Merrimack fails to make it back to the NCAA tournament in March.

2012-13 Storyline: What happens to Merrimack hockey post-Cannata?

Player To Watch: Mike Collins F (10-15-25)

Player Missed Most: Joe Cannata G (17-12-7, 2.18, .925)

Newcomer To Keep An Eye On: Ben Bahe F

Random Fact: The Merrimack roster has a dozen players who played their junior hockey in Western Canada.

Beer The Triangle Favorite Local Brew: Alts are one of my favorite beer styles but are pretty tough to find.  Luckily for us Haverhill Brewery’s GestAlt is one of the best around and is brewed a short drive from Merrimack’s campus.

Team Outlook:

This will be an interesting season for the Merrimack Warriors who are coming off two historic seasons for the program.  Two years ago the Warriors returned to the NCAA tournament for the first time since the late 80’s.  Last year they reached the top ranking in the polls in November but fell off as the season went on and could not return to the post-season.  This coming season and the next will show if the recent success can be built upon or whether Joe Cannata ends up being truly irreplaceable for the program.

Trying to fill the shoes (skates?) of Cannata will be a couple of sophomores.  First vying for the spot is his backup of last season, Sam Marotta.  Marotta did well in very limited action, not letting in a goal on the way to a 1-0-0 record in 64 minutes of action.  Also competing for the position will be Rasmus Tirronen, a goaltender out of the NAHL who sat out last year due to NCAA reasons but was allowed to practice with the team.

One thing that favors the inexperienced goaltenders is the fact that Merrimack has one of the better defensive units in the league.  Senior Kyle Bigos and junior Jordan Heywood lead the defensive corps that also includes Brendan Ellis and a couple sophomores in Mike Wills and Dan Kolomatis, with both seeing significant minutes last year.

Who will score for the Warriors is almost as big a question as who will be in net.  The team returns just one player who had double digits in goals last year, Mike Collins who netted exactly 10.  Beyond that they’ll have to look for significant increases in production from the likes of sophomore Connor Toomey and Josh Meyers, who scored five goals after joining the team at New Years.  Freshmen Ben Bahe and Vinny Scotti will also have to contribute for the team to be successful.

They’ll Finish Lower Because: The young goaltending implodes or no one steps up to score or both.

They’ll Finish Higher Because: The defense puts the team on their shoulders and carries them up the standings.

Fear The Triangle Fearless Hockey East Predictions
1. ??
2. ??
3. ??
4. ??
5. ??
6. ??
7. Massachusetts Minutemen (preview upcoming)
8. Merrimack Warriors
9. Northeastern Huskies
10. Vermont Catamounts

So you can see where I’ve slotted the Minutemen in my predictions, but I’ll expand on why I see them 7th in my in-depth season preview in the near future.

So as I mentioned yesterday former UVM recruit Dennis Kravchenko is currently on campus for an official visit.  From what I’ve heard it is very likely that UMass will land the 5’9” forward who recently visited St Cloud as well.  Therefore, let’s get to know him better.  Kravchenko split last season between the NAHL and USHL.  He started out with Wichita Falls of the NAHL putting up nine goals and nine assists in 30 games before moving onto Cedar Rapids.  In 34 games with the RoughRiders he had eight goals and 13 assists.  This coming season he’ll be playing for Sioux Falls as he was traded to the Stampede over the off season.

Prior to heading west to play juniors, he was at Kimball Union in the New England prep league, playing aside current Minuteman Steve Mastalerz.  Kravchenko’s family is Russian, but he grew up in Southern California before heading east to play at KUA.  In his last season of prep he had 16 goals and 42 assists, good for 5th best in total points for the league.  The year before he did well also, scoring 19 goals and accumulating 54 points total.  What’s interesting is that this compares pretty favorably with current Minutemen Conor Sheary and Mike Pereira’s totals that season in prep, their last year before coming to Amherst, netting 71 and 64 points respectively.

It’s not just points he’s accumulated in his career.  He put up 142 PIM last season combining the time between the USHL and NAHL:

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Here’s an interesting article out of Cedar Rapids, calling Kravchenko “fearless”.

The Western College Hockey Blog predicts he’ll be the top scorer for Sioux Falls this season.  He scored a goal so far in four preseason games for the Stampede.

UMass was picked to finish 9th by the Hockey East media.  Including this guy:

Feel free to petition our beloved alma mater to get his degree revoked.

College Hockey News’ Scott McLaughlin shares his thoughts on the poll.

Mike McMahon of the Lawrence Eagle Tribune has UMass finishing 6th in his latest season preview.

The first national poll is out in the form of the USA Today/USA Hockey variety with Boston College sitting at #1, right were we left them last spring.  Lowell comes in at #7 while Boston University was picked 13th.

Tomorrow is Hockey East media day so we’ll have a lot more polls and predictions to mull over tomorrow night.

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