Across the sheet: Q&A with The Mack Report’s Mike McMahon

UMass and Merrimack set for home-and-home

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(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

By Ryan Ames, Assistant Sports Editor

The Massachusetts hockey team squares off with Merrimack this weekend after its biggest weekend in the Greg Carvel era, splitting with then-No.1 Ohio State on the road.

I asked Mike McMahon, who covers Merrimack hockey for his blog, The Mack Report, some questions to get a feel for the Warriors heading into the two-game set.

Ryan Ames: Given the departure of each of the four top scorers from last year’s squad, who are some names that can emerge as consistent offensive threats this season?

Mike McMahon: Chase Gresock is a freshman who has played really well for Merrimack. He doesn’t have a goal yet, but it seems like it’s a matter of time. He’s all around the net and is one of the leaders on the team in shots. He’s playing first-line minutes and he’s in prime scoring positions, along with playing on the top power-play unit. Meanwhile, Tyler Irvine and Logan Coomes are each averaging over a point per game. Sami Tavernier (one goal) might be Merrimack’s most talented offensive threat.

RA: What has first-year head coach Scott Borek brought to the table so far?

MM: A lot more energy and battle, for starters. Merrimack went into competition drills and battle drills from the very first day of practice, which wasn’t the norm for this team. There was no honeymoon period or relaxing. It’s one of the things the players have mentioned to me on multiple occasions.

RA: Senior goalie Craig Pantano returns after starting a majority of the games in net a season ago. Is he Merrimack’s most important player?

MM: By far. He has two shutouts on the season, including shutting out BU last Saturday. When he’s on, he’s a game-changer for a Merrimack team that is going to struggle to score some goals. Pantano isn’t flashy, but he’s very sound positionally and pucks hit him. He’s calm and under control, which means he makes the saves look easy.

RA: Last Saturday, Merrimack defeated then-No. 13 Boston University, 4-0. What were some of the biggest takeaways in that performance from the Warriors?

MM: Pantano, for starters. He was great. Also, Merrimack just out-worked BU. The Terriers are younger and I think it will take some time — as it has in recent years — for them to get going at 100 percent, but Merrimack just gutted out a win and out-worked BU in all three zones. It sounds crazy to say an empty-net goal epitomized the game, but it really did. BU pulled their goalie on the power play and Merrimack own the draw, took it down ice and then won a scrum in front of the BU net and buried the goal to make it 4-0. It summed up the game. BU was outworked.

RA: UMass and Merrimack are set for a home-and-home series this weekend. How do you see this match up playing out?

MM: This will be Merrimack’s toughest test of the season, and I’m including BU in that. BU might be ahead of UMass at the end of the year, but there’s no question UMass is the better team right now. I really think this UMass team is special. The ceiling on this team is top-four in Hockey East and an NCAA Tournament team. I really believe that. Now, who knows if they’ll hit that ceiling, but the potential is definitely there.

I see two totally different games being played this weekend. Friday night at the Mullins Center players will have more time and space on the bigger sheet. The game isn’t as hectic on bigger sheets, despite the extra room. The extra room, in my opinion, allows for guys to be a little more in control and settle things down. There’s so much space in the zone.

Merrimack’s rink will be a different story on Saturday. It’s cramped, things happen fast, and the game becomes grittier and edgier in their rink. Also, it’s Merrimack’s homecoming weekend and they always generate big crowds (I think the men’s hockey game is already sold out). So it will be a loud atmosphere.

Ryan Ames can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @_RyanAmes.