Warriors Not Skating on Reputation

Merrimack Hockey Squad Hoping Hard Work Will Pay Off At Goal Line

photo courtesy of Alexis Altman

We work hard. That simple, three-word reminder means everything to the Merrimack Warrior hockey team this season, and it was evident during Saturday night’s 4-1 victory over #5 Union on the road.

“You will not make it two minutes in our locker room without hearing or seeing those three words,” says starting goaltender Sam Marotta. “Some may think it is simple but, with our talent, if we work hard every night, our team will have a very good chance of winning every game.”

For an underdog unranked nationally in the preseason and picked to finish 8th in Hockey East, hard work can’t be overlooked. But are these Warriors really underdogs?

“If people want to classify us as underdogs, that’s fine by me. But I prefer not to concern myself with how others think – I’m more concerned with what we think of ourselves,” said junior captain and defenseman Jordan Heywood, who finished with an assist on the night.  “We won Saturday’s game because we were in better shape…we worked hard last spring, summer and this fall to get ready for the season and we knew few teams have actually trained as hard as we did.”

That hard work in the offseason paid off because, as Heywood notes, “usually the team who scores more goals in the third period is the better conditioned team.”

Sophomore Josh Myers must have worked extra hard then, scoring two quick goals early in the third period that would give Merrimack a lead they would hold onto for the rest of the night. Simply stated by Marotta, “Our team did not make Union’s night an easy one.”

Despite a relatively easy night for the Warriors, however, Heywood isn’t ready to settle just yet.

“It’s the first game of the year, so we can pretty much improve on everything. You can’t expect to be playing playoff hockey in October – but the sooner you get to that level, the better.”

So what about the rest of the season? What should we expect from these unnoticed Warriors? Well, if Saturday is any indication, we’re in for a fun ride. Even in a blowout victory though, Heywood stays focused.

“We’re happy with the win, but we’ve got a long way to go.”

Even so, adds Marotta, “everyone in our locker room believes we can skate with anyone in the country.”

Keep working hard, boys.

~

Merrimack travels to Alaska this weekend to compete in the Alaska Gold Rush. The Warriors will play both Alaska Fairbanks and Alaska Anchorage before returning home for their first home games of the season on October 26th and 27th.

*Note: this article also appears in the October 12th edition of The Beacon and can be found here.

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Huskies Send Warriors Whimpering

Presenting your 2012-2013 Merrimack College Warriors © Blind Obedience

“Every night is a grind.”

Jim Madigan, Northeastern University’s head hockey coach, couldn’t have summed up Wednesday night’s Hockey East opener better.

Merrimack College head coach Mark Dennehy’s opinions didn’t differ, stating simply “you have to play a full 60 minutes to win…we didn’t deserve to win this game.”

Merrimack got off to a tough start Wednesday night as goaltender Rasmus Tirronen,  getting his first collegiate ice time during his first collegiate start,  gave up 3 opening period goals, the first coming just :53 seconds into the game.

A rowdy, rousing NU student section was endlessly heckling Tirronen as soon as he took the ice, something he’ll have to get used to in the Hockey East.

Despite immediately facing an uphill challenge, Dennehy was relatively pleased with Tirronen’s performance.

“I thought he played fine,” said Dennehy. “He was not our problem tonight.”

To be fair, Dennehy had a point. After the first three goals, Tirronen settled and made several spectacular saves to stymie Northeastern’s offense. Merrimack just looked slower, as the Huskies skated figure eights around them throughout the first period. In the defensive zone, Merrimack was hitting hard when they could slow the game down, but all three goals came off a Merrimack turnover in transition.

Seeing this, Dennehy called a timeout and laid out the game plan very simply for his team, now trailing 3-0. The Huskies, who outshot Merrimack 16-6 in the first period, were seemingly unafraid to let loose on Tirronen.

“I said ‘well, look what they’ve done in just 8 and a half minutes…we’ve got 51 and a half left.’”

After the timeout, the Warrior forecheck suddenly reappeared, but it was “too little, too late.”

What Merrimack needed was their big, bruising, six-foot, five-inch defenseman, Kyle Bigos. Bigos, who left Saturday’s game with an undisclosed injury, said about his injury before Wednesday’s game simply “I don’t know. Lower body injury.”

Dennehy didn’t clarify the problem in his post game press conference, copying Bigos’ sentiment, saying “Let me see if I can do my best Bill Belicheck: lower body injury.”

In Bigos’ stay, freshman Sean Robertson suited up, making his collegiate debut.

In fact, Merrimack had 4 freshmen active tonight, including the debut of forward Ben Bahe and center Brian Christie, as well as a second appearance for wing Justin Hussar.

Merrimack came out much stronger in the second and took advantage of a chippy period featuring 10 penalties. Asked about the chippiness of the game, Dennehy was unsurprised, stating “that’s just Northeastern and Merrimack…gritty hockey at both ends.”

Sophomore Quinn Gould put Merrimack on the board just 4:20 into the second with a transition 4 on 4 goal on assists from John Heffernan and Justin Hussar. In the minutes before, the Warriors were controlling possession during a 3 on 3 and a brief 4 on 3 Power Play. After ripping several hard shots, Gould finally scored on a one timer coming off a cross-ice pass.

A questionable interference call to Justin Mansfield midway through the second led to an NU power play, eventually killed by the Warriors. Just seconds after Mansfield got released from the box, he ripped a one timer from Josh Myers that rebounded, which he followed, and eventually squeezed past goalie Chris Rawlings for Merrimack’s second goal of the night.

“We clawed ourselves back in,” said Dennehy, but the Huskies had already clawed away at the Warriors too much.

In the end, a back and forth final period ended with just one empty net goal scored, and Northeastern pinched out a 4-2 win.

Something to note: both Merrimack goals came off of penalties from Northeastern freshman Cam Darcy, who was in the penalty box to watch both. Madigan highlighted this in his post game press conference, reminding everyone “you don’t win in this league without senior leadership.”

Mark Dennehy knows this all too well, as this year’s squad features only four seniors, three of whom were inactive tonight.

“We kind of shocked them,” said Huskies Captain, senior Vinny Saponari.

Shocked was an understatement. Said Dennehy about tonight’s game, “I felt like the guy on the top of the Titanic screaming ‘iceberg!’”

Well coach, the good news is that once you’ve sunk and reached rock bottom, the only place to go is up.

At least we hope.

Dear Pink Hats, 69 Wins Is Perfect

“There’s a difference between being a really talented group and being a winning group”     -Cody Ross, Red Sox OF

“Attention Red Sox fans, you can breathe now”

No one wanted to win this way. No matter how hard we tried to justify it, how many jerseys (or bricks) we sold, and how cool it was to go to Fenway on any given night and get on ESPN because these Red Sox could have been the best team ever, something just wasn’t right. I used to dream of seeing Adrian Gonzalez hit at Fenway Park, and boldly predicted he would easily hit 60 (yes, six-zero) home runs in his first season with the team. I envisioned the Carl Crawford/Jacoby Ellsbury tandem to be one for the record books. Sure, I hated the John Lackey signing. Yes, we were writing more checks than ever before and, no, there didn’t seem to be enough room for all the zeros. But Theo Epstein was the Messiah. Certainly, he could no wrong…right?

And then it hit me.

“You’re just as bad as us,” one close, Yankee-fan friend told me. Frankly, I couldn’t disagree.

~

I can’t throw a baseball properly. No matter how hard I try, the mechanics of simply throwing it over-the-shoulder don’t quite work for me, and I end up icing my entire arm for three times as long as I was on the field. That’s because growing up, although I didn’t fully appreciate baseball until about eleven years old, I worshiped Nomar Garciaparra. Nomar epitomized everything I was taught growing up: be passionate about what you do and do it to the best of your ability, day-in and day-out. Typically, I didn’t get to watch Nomar play because the Red Sox came on past my bed time.

“If you looked up ‘hard work’ in the dictionary, Nomar would be standing there asking what took you so long.”

Heck, if I got to watch Rugrats at 7pm, it was a hell of a day. Regardless of how many hours I didn’t spend glued to the TV, I knew everything about my favorite player. Anthony “Nomar” Garciaparra, whose name came from his father’s name, Ramon, spelled backwards, was born on July 23rd. He’d been the shortstop since 1996, was the 1997 American League Rookie of the Year, and his signature, off-balance, side-armed throw (the reason I can’t throw a baseball today) almost never missed its target. Most importantly though was how he played the game. Nomar had a routine for everything he did – how to take the field, how to get ready for an at-bat, and how to properly field a ground ball. If there was a ball hit within a mile radius of his position, you bet he’d get there and make the play. More often than not you could find Nomar sacrificing his body to get an out or kicking in a little more hustle to cleverly snag an extra base. Despite all the nuances that made him unique, one thing stood out the most: he loved the game. If you looked up ‘hard work’ in the dictionary, Nomar’s picture would be standing there asking what took you so long. He didn’t care about money or fame, he simply respected the game he played and wanted to give it everything he had every time he stepped onto the field.

That kind of player – the gritty, hard-nosed dirt dog who would give anything for his team to win and for his fans to smile – was what baseball players were to me. They loved the game, saw everything it had given them and so many others, and wished only to repay the game in some way for all it had done for them and so many before. Those players – the ones to whom it mattered and who had fun playing – were who the Red Sox were supposed to be. It’s why in 2003, enduring my first stomach-punch loss, I cried with Tim Wakefield after that eleventh inning bomb knocked my Red Sox out of the playoffs. It’s why in 2004, despite lacking Nomar on the final roster, the Red Sox were World Champions for the first time in 86 years. The self-proclaimed “idiots” had a fiery passion for the game of baseball and, like Nomar in years prior, gave everything so their team could win and their fans could smile. They just wanted to say “thanks” and have some fun along the way, so they did. That was what made a baseball team. So while I didn’t endure 86 years of hardship, after having my heart ripped out and falling in love with the game and an incredible, historic team, I knew what it meant to be a Red Sox fan.

Or so I thought.

~

The Red Sox have never been bad as long as I can remember them. Down on their luck? Usually. Loveable losers? Almost certainly. Cursed? No doubt in my mind. But bad? No. They were never bad. In fact, most would argue they were anything but that. For months after they won, all you heard about was new signs, babies named “Curt” and “Papi”, and something about finally dying in peace. For the first time in 86 years, Boston took a collective sigh of relief and all was right in the world.

The Red Sox came back strong in 2005, making the playoffs but swiftly losing in the first round to the eventual American League Pennant-winning Chicago White Sox. This time though, no one groaned. It was disappointing, sure, but they’d be back. After all, they had just won the year before. The next year the Red Sox struggled late once again and missed the playoffs for the first time in several years. Then in 2007, they did it all over again, winning the World Series for the second time in four years. Then it happened.

“This is what happens with defending champs: They kill themselves to win…celebrate all summer, let down a little, regroup, prove they’re great again, and then, it’s really up to the whims of the season itself. Sometimes they go your way, sometimes they don’t.” – Bill Simmons

Priorities: set straight since 2004

Suddenly we expected the Red Sox to win. Now it was no longer a grand prize so desperately dreamed of and longed for, but a marketable brand that we tried to buy and sell. Now being a Red Sox fan wasn’t about agony or desperation or dreams, it was about being a card-carrying member of the Nation and buying your commemorative brick. Now all that mattered was the number in the “W” column and, ironically enough, now we couldn’t seem to get that number to go up. Now the “players” didn’t come to the park to “play” anything, but instead to complain, whine, fake injuries and make excuses to sit around and collect a pay check. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure my boss would fire me if that was what I did at work. The 2012 Red Sox put the history of baseball to shame, the one thing no player should ever do. The lazy, lethargic and largely apathetic clubhouse could rarely muster a victory here, there or anywhere. When Major League Baseball was first founded, the men on the teams all had real jobs – businessmen, butchers, firefighters, fathers, etc. that kept them busy most of the time. Baseball was simply their passion, not their day job. They played every night because they loved the game and wanted to entertain the people around them.

I love baseball. It’s my own personal recluse (right next to basketball and the Celtics) from the bustling world I live in. These guys absolutely make a difference in my daily life, but they aren’t doctors. It’s one thing to get paid fifty times as much money as the “normal” guys at the top of the food chain, but it gets ridiculous when you won’t even try. Sports give us something to put our hope into and, to be perfectly honest, in the words of Ben Wrightman, “I like being part of something bigger than me. It’s good for your soul to invest in something you can’t control.” In a world that glorifies athletes as the people who give us those little bits of hope and bring us something bigger to invest ourselves in, the very least you can give is your best. In 2012, the Red Sox never came close.

That’s why we ended up with losers like Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez on our team – guys who have all the talent in the world, let you think they’ll give you everything they’ve got forever and then wait until you give them everything you’ve got forever and rip the seat out from under you. It’s why Josh Beckett made nearly $16 million this year being a terrible pitcher on an even worse team, eventually got traded to a decent team, and became a bad pitcher on a serious playoff contender that crashed and burned as soon as he got there. The Red Sox were a talented group, but they certainly weren’t a winning one.

Charles P. Pierce sums it up rather perfectly:

The franchise needed a year like this. It needed a year like this not just because it was forced to clear out the lumpy deadwood in the clubhouse, though it certainly needed that. It needed a year like this not just because it was a humbling experience that let the air out of the inflated hubris that had been keeping the franchise’s collective ego aloft since the wonderful autumn of 2004, though the franchise certainly needed one of those, too. The franchise needed a year like this because people like me are getting older and we missed the days when being a Red Sox fan wasn’t so much work…Those were good days, and isn’t that what the baseball people tell us the game is all about?

In their end of the season press conference in which they let manager Bobby Valentine go, Red Sox President and CEO Larry Lucchino said of the 2012 season “it begs for changes, some of which have already transpired.  More will come.” Chairman Tom Werner then added “We’ll be back.”

While I appreciate their comments, I think Larry and Tom have got it all misunderstood. The last stop on the Red Sox bandwagon tour finally arrived the day the “Sell Out Streak” ended. All the fogies are gone, and the men of Fenway Park can once again rejoice in knowing the women who will be heading to the Fens know they look much sexier wearing their Boston Blue and Red than they do in obnoxious pink. The tourists have packed up their bags, satisfied for the next 100 years. 69 wins feels oddly familiar, and losing suddenly feels great. The culture surrounding this team has changed. The ‘good old days’ are here and Boston can once again take a collective sigh of relief. The Red Sox are back.

So let’s give Nomar a call and a uniform, tell him to lace up the glove and cleats, and invite him to come on out for one last magical victory tour, showing the new guys how it’s done.

Hey, most Red Sox fans had 86 years to dream. If they could do it, so can I.

The Team That Wasn’t

We all waited for the boys to hike up their skirts and play ball, but it never happened

Sitting here on October 1st with 3 games left in their abysmal 2012 campaign, the Red Sox don’t have much to cheer for. Looking on the calendar, we have just 27 more innings to play against the hated rival New York Yankees and the Pittsburgh Pirates, who haven’t had a winning record in 28 years, have more wins than we do. The worst Red Sox team of my lifetime previously finished 73-89 in 1992, but this team has them beat, clinching the worst record of my life with another defeat at the hands of the Orioles yesterday afternoon. Even if the Sox somehow sweep the stumbling Yanks, they’ll still only finish with a 72-90 record, potentially bringing up the rear in the American League East. The past few years have been easy to brush off: In 2009, injuries to Victor Martinez, Jason Varitek and Daisuke Matsuzaka, lack of pitching depth, a failed John Smoltz experience and a Jonathan Papelbon meltdown led to a first round playoff exit; In 2010, there wasn’t a single starter who didn’t land on the disabled list, and the Red Sox had almost 15 members of their Opening Day roster head to the DL over the course of the season, leading to the team just missing the playoffs; In 2011, well, they just choked and, frankly, it happens to the best of ’em. Just ask the 2004 Yankees.

However, after a season filled with almost no hope and almost $200 million dollars on payroll, it’s time to face reality. Not only are the Red Sox not in ‘Kansas’ (so to speak) anymore, they aren’t in the playoffs either. In fact, they aren’t anywhere close.

Pay No Attention To That Man Behind The Curtain

In the wake of the 2011 collapse that saw the Red Sox lose a 9 1/2 game lead in September and miss the playoffs, Terry Francona, the clubhouse favorite, fearless leader and arguably greatest manager  in the history of the Boston Red Sox, did what he did best: protect his players. Amid allegations that the team was a bunch of lazy slackers, including eating fried chicken and drinking beer in the clubhouse before, during and after games, Francona stuck to his guns and shouldered the blame. Instead of letting his players take the fall, which he very well could have and they very much deserved, he blamed himself:

“It was my responsibility to not let what happened happen. So regardless of how ownership feels or regardless of how [general manager] Theo (Epstein) feels or how the fans feel, I had a responsibility to get something done and it didn’t get done.”

The leadership, management and ingenuity that had led the Red Sox to two World Series Championships was suddenly in

Red Sox fans have faith in Ben Cherington restoring the magic that once was, but many wonder if he’s even the man in control

shambles, as just a few weeks later Executive Vice President and General Manager Theo Epstein left the team as well. In an offseason full of turmoil and criticism for a lack of clubhouse chemistry, largely due to what Epstein hinted at as “business signings” (as opposed to baseball signings), the Red Sox went out and, after a long and grueling process, signed Bobby Valentine as their new manager, someone who fell right into the category of the popular, ratings-inducing clowns the team already had too many of. The one bright note was the promotion of Ben Cherington, groomed by Epstein himself, as the team’s new General Manager. However, numerous reports throughout the offseason and into this season have questioned whether Cherington or Red Sox President and CEO Larry Lucchino are calling the shots. Regardless of whose team this is, it hasn’t worked in the last calendar year on or off the field, leaving Red Sox fans wondering what life would be like if they only had a brain.
Fortunately towards the end of the season, while Larry Lucchino and the gang were wiling away the hours conferring with the flowers, Ben Cherington seemingly unraveled some of the riddles plaguing the Red Sox. In late August, the Red Sox pulled the trigger on a blockbuster trade that sent some of Boston’s biggest blunders and clubhouse clowns away to La La Land with the Dodgers. While it was disheartening to see Adrian Gonzalez, the power-hitting lefty whose swing was tailor made for Fenway Park and defensive skills solidified him as the club’s main building block and first baseman for years to come, be traded, it had to happen. The happy-go-lucky Gonzalez from his introductory press conference was long gone and had been replaced by a slimy, snitching slacker. No longer could he be the face of the franchise for future generations to love. Tony Massarotti puts it into perspective quite nicely:

“The Red Sox won two World Series with Manny Ramirez. The New York Yankees won titles with Wade Boggs and even Alex Rodriguez.You can win with vain, selfish players in baseball; you just can’t win if they are your leaders. And so, could the Red Sox ultimately have won here with Gonzalez batting third? Some of us would like to think so. But the price of freedom is always high, and the Red Sox were in no position to be particular about escape routes.”

Ultimately though, it comes down not to what the Red Sox had and misused, but rather what they altogether lacked: heart. The team could never build off the small bits of momentum they occasionally found and, all due respect to Dustin Pedroia and Pedro Ciriaco, never really had a spark plug. Remember, you’re only as strong as your weakest link. For every big hit, there was an equal and opposite big out; for every 1-2-3 inning, there was a reliever who would give up 5 runs. It’s been the story of the season, and a sad one at that. Forget the wins –  it would warrant a parade if these Red Sox simply tried. Even Manny Ramirez, despite all of his defensive deficiencies, would always dive for close balls. The atmosphere in Boston has changed this season. Times are tough for Red Sox fans. Yes, Pittsburgh, I hear you. 28 years is a long time but, hey, your team tries. Sure, we’ve won in recent years and are always spoiled with the Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle wrapped with a big bow under the tree. But let’s be honest: this team makes us want to shoot our own eyes out. It’d be nice one time for this batch of Red Sox “just to register emotion, jealousy, devotion and really feel the part.” And it might be possible, too, if they only had some heart.

But it’s not too late. They have one last curtain call this week in the Big Apple. Sure, the Yanks have clinched a playoff berth, but they haven’t won the division. Not yet. In a year that was supposed to be great and honor the rich history of Fenway Park and the Boston Red Sox, everything has gone wrong. The Red Sox lost the face, heart and soul of the franchise when Johnny Pesky passed away in August. They lost the voice of the Red Sox when PA Announcer Carl Beane tragically died in a car crash in May. These things were taken away from them, but no one can take away their pride except themselves.

So, 2012 Red Sox, you have a choice.You can be the lazy, never-say-win team you’ve been since last September and roll over, die and roll out the red carpet for the Yanks. Or, you can be the never-say-die, hard-nosed dirt dogs I’ve grown up with, who went out there and kicked the crap out of the Damned Yankees for three straight games, pushing them into the wild card and giving Red Sox fans everywhere something to remember and hope for over these next long, cold, four and a half months.

The choice is yours. I’ll see you tonight.