Mike Collins set up all three Merrimack goals as they hung on to edge Maine 3-2 in front of 4,067 at Alfond Arena. Joey Diamond had a goal and an assist for the Black Bears in the loss. The Warriors improved to 7-5-2 in Hockey East, keeping them in fifth place and five points ahead of the seventh spot. Maine missed out on two more points, keeping the Black Bears in the cellar. Now at 1-9-4 in conference play, Maine is getting to the point where the panic button needs to be pushed.
Observations from Saturday's game in Orono:
As Mike Collins goes, so does the Merrimack offense. The Warriors are 8-5-3 when he records a point and 1-4-2 when he does not. The junior from Boston assisted on all three Warrior goals Saturday. He's dynamic out on the ice and creates a majority of the Merrimack scoring chances. He has also quietly improved tremendously in his own end. Coach Mark Dennehy now trusts him in all situations as Collins is out on the ice killing penalties and at the end of the game in crunch situations.
Kyle Bigos had a very good game, scoring on a hard slapshot on a power play and assisting on another goal. He's a big player who is going to get penalties called on him for being big, but he needs to avoid the undisciplined and unnecessary penalties that have hurt the team and caused Dennehy to remove the "A" from his sweater. If he can play as well as he has the past few weeks, he could be a key player for the Warriors down the stretch.
Joey Diamond played one of his best games of the season. He had a nice shorthanded goal where he picked off an errant Jordan Heywood pass and assisted on Connor Leen's goal. His goal tonight marked his 50th career goal. He was buzzing around the ice and had some good chances in addition to his scoring plays. He is at his best when he is flying around, causing havoc, crashing the net and working the corners. He had a terrific season a year ago, scoring 25 goals, and being part of an NCAA Tournament team. Diamond must play like he did tonight more often than not if he wants his last season in Orono to not end on the outside looking in of the conference playoffs.
Tim Whitehead needs to be replaced as head coach of this once perennial powerhouse. Maine is still winless at home after this weekend's tie and loss. The Alfond crowds are diminishing. There are good players on this team, but not enough of them. The ones that are Hockey East caliber are not being put in the right situations to succeed. If Mark Dennehy had a line of Ryan Lomberg, Devin Shore and Will Merchant, they would have more than six goals on the season. Furthermore, players like Mark Anthoine, Joey Diamond and Kyle Beattie are better than their season statistics show. The responsibility of the coach is to get the most out of his talent. Whitehead has not done that.
On the other hand, Mark Dennehy continues to get the most out of his teams. Outside of Mike Collins, there is a serious lack of talent offensively. He gets his teams to go all out almost every shift. Two players who epitomize this are linemates Rhett Bly and Kyle Singleton. They do not have as much skill as a lot of players in this league, but they work hard every shift and provide spark and some of the necessary ingredients to winning hockey teams. Bly is very good on faceoffs and Singleton blocks more shots than anyone else in Hockey East.