NORTH ANDOVER -- The difference in speed, skill and attitude has been a refreshing change for the Merrimack College hockey team. All of that was on display Friday afternoon as the Warriors raced past Clarkson for a 3-0 win in a nonconference game in front of 2,158 at Lawler Rink.
The speed and skill might be what shows up on the score sheet, but the attitude shines through with a winning mentality, intensity, poise and playing to win and not to lose. Merrimack (9-4-1) picked up its ninth win of the season to surpass last season's win total.
"I'm happy that we won, but we have a lot of work to do," said Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy. "We turned the puck over way too much. [Clarkson] plays really hard. It took us a while to respond to that."
It might sound like a broken record, but Merrimack's team speed and offensive creativity have been the biggest differences in the win total from last season to this.
"It's nice to be able to score goals. It changes a lot of things. [Speed] is something we wanted to address through recruiting and also with the guys we had. We wanted to work on our speed. Nothing is faster than the puck and just the ability to move the puck well gives the appearance of speed as well," explained Dennehy.
As he has done so many times this season freshman Brett Seney used his speed to generate a goal for the Warriors. With a power play winding down he received a pass in his own zone from defenseman Dan Kolomatis and burst through the neutral zone. Seney split two Clarkson defenders and threw the puck on net for a crashing Jace Hennig to bang home the rebound.
"It was late in the power play and I saw Dan go behind the net. I wanted to get some speed and I knew their defense would be flat footed. I just made a nice move and got alone on the goalie. I tried to slip it five-hole. The goalie made a nice save, but luckily Jace was following in and put it in for us," said Seney.
Determination and quickness helped Merrimack extend its lead to 2-0 at the 7:27 mark of the third period. On a shift where Seney was all over the ice causing disturbances he raced back to pick the puck away from a Clarkson player in the neutral zone. Defenseman Jonathan Lashyn quickly chipped the puck up ice. Chris Leblanc beat a Golden Knights defenseman to the puck and chipped it under the bar.
"It was a good shift by our line. We were working a lot down low. We could have had a couple that shift. It was good Chris finally put one in," Seney explained.
"It's tough to come off an ACL. We wanted to be careful with him. He's a big body and sometimes those big bodies take some time to get going. He's got such poise and puck presence. Every game he's played he's played better," said Dennehy of his Leblanc who has scored twice in the last three games after coming back from injury four games ago.
Hampus Gustafsson's power play tally with 7:22 left gave the Warriors added insurance. He skated in from the right circle after receiving a pass down from Dan Kolomatis who was walking the blue line. Justin Mansfield picked up the secondary assist.
In just his third career start Merrimack freshman Collin Delia made 28 saves for his first collegiate shutout. It was the Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. native's first win in a game he started. His first career win came when he was forced to come in relief of senior Rasmus Tirronen just 20 seconds into last Friday's 4-2 victory over Northeastern.
"You kind of find your stride. You feel the puck more in the game. You adapt to certain situations. You read the play more. It's really just about battling out there, being in your comfort zone and getting in a groove," said Delia.
Clarkson's best scoring chances came in a flurry late in the second period which included a shot that hit the post and another that got past Delia, but he swatted it wide before it crossed the line.
"Times like that are going to happen. You just have to kind of reel it in. Be calm, confident and play with poise," said Delia. "You don't want to let a goal in so whatever you have to do to keep the puck out of the net is my mindset there."
Having to step in and fill the skates of a star senior goaltender wasn't an easy task for Delia, but he has the full support of his teammates.
"It's been great. Colin has come in and given us that backup. He's shown that he can really play at this level. He's been playing great for us," Seney said.
Despite being a rookie, Delia has a calm and confident mentality about his game that has impressed his coach.
"It's as much a psychological position once you get past the mechanics," explained Dennehy. "Give me a big body that fills a lot of the net who has some mechanics and then give me a guy with a great disposition. Nothing phases [Delia]," emphasized Dennehy.
Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxSports.