While watching a Boston University-Merrimack game earlier this year, my friend pointed out an interesting little wrinkle in the Warriors’ game plan: practically any time the puck was in ‘Mack’s zone, one of the Warriors would skulk the neutral zone, looking for a breakout pass.
I was fascinated, but didn’t look into it too much after the fact. I figured it was an experiment by Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy to find his spunky but often-out-gunned squad an edge.
Much to my surprise, a full two months later, Dennehy is still running the same wacky play.
“To be honest about it, I don’t know that I’d want to talk about it too much because I think it’s still catching a couple teams by surprise,” he reluctantly stated. “What has amazed me is that more people don’t recognize it. There’s still an element of surprise,” he said, though he was quick to state that it’s not an original strategy.
“If you knew me, you’d know that this is one of the most difficult things I have to say, which is ‘no comment,'” he laughed.
The sixth-year head coach, in his fifth season in the Merrimack Valley, did indicate that the Warriors have used the “cherry-picker” tactic all year long, with varying levels of success.
“I’d be more than happy to sit down with you at the end of the season and talk about the nuances of it, how we run it,” Dennehy said, but was obviously tight-lipped beyond that.
The reasons for running the play remain a mystery, but a few possibilities came to mind: a) Dennehy feels that his team has better odds playing four-on-four defense rather than five-on-five, and evacuating a forward and an opponent to cover him give Merrimack that desired advantage; or b) a select group of the Warriors’ forwards are dynamic enough to break free from their coverage on a consistent basis when their teammates get the puck out of the zone.
Chances are that there are other, more intricate and subtle reasons for running the play, but one thing’s for certain: Dennehy isn’t afraid to take the game in new directions if the tweaks will benefit his budding program.