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Merrimack's Hennig looks to build on strong freshman year

Matt Dewkett

Momentum is an often overused cliché in sports, but it could justifiably be used to describe the transition from the end of his freshman season to now for Merrimack sophomore forward Jace Hennig.

While much of the accolades last season were going to his linemate and fellow rookie Brett Seney, Hennig quietly put up 14 goals to lead the Warriors in that category. He finished the year with a bang, scoring four goals and two assists over the last four games.

The Port Moody, British Columbia native worked hard in the offseason to ensure that the positive finish to last year would carry over to his sophomore campaign.

"I worked on getting heavier and stronger on the puck. I went to skills sessions and hit the gym hard back home," said Hennig. "I need to build off last year and carry momentum forward."

There was some line shuffling, but for the most part Hennig spent the season on the same line with two fellow freshmen, Seney and Mathieu Tibbet.

"We worked really well together. Seney is so speedy and tricky with the puck. Tibbet opens up space with his size and speed. I just tried to find open space, go to the net and Seney usually found me," explained Hennig.

"[Jace] has great puck possession skills. He's able to protect the puck with his body. Even though he's not big in stature, he puts his body between the opponent and the puck. He can take it from the left side or the right side and really escape from whatever pressure there is," commented Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy. "His puck protection skills really help him bring something different to that line."

The trio took their lumps and had their ups and downs as many players do transitioning from junior hockey to the NCAA level.

"There's a big jump from juniors size-wise and with the speed of the game," Hennig said.

The line quickly became a fan favorite of Warrior supporters and one that opposing coaches had to game plan against to defend the speed and skill.

"We didn't really see ourselves as rookies. We just took it day-by-day and went out there and did the best we could to help the team win," commented Hennig.

"He's an incredibly smart player in all situations. He's a player, as a freshman, that we didn't hesitate to put out in all situations - four-on-four, he killed [penalties] and the power play," added Dennehy.

While it will be hard for this year's freshman class to duplicate the success of Hennig, Seney and Tibbet, there are some skilled players waiting in the wings.

"[This year's freshmen] are pretty similar to us. [Mathieu] Foget and [Ludvig] Larsson have a lot of skill," said Hennig.

Merrimack players, like others across the country, were able to get on the ice with coaches for a limited time starting last week. However, it will be an anxious few weeks as players prepare for the start of the season.

"It's a long, hard month of practices just to gear up for October," Hennig said.

Hennig and his teammates hope all those grueling practices will lead to more wins and to a destination just about 30 minutes south of North Andover come the third weekend of March.

"We want to make it to the TD Garden. There's no better place to be. As a team, we are going to embrace that and work towards that goal," said Hennig.

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Jeff Cox covers college, junior, high school and prep hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxSports.