Hockey East Preseason Power Rankings: No. 5 Merrimack

By Scott McLaughlin/DFP Staff

5) Merrimack College
2009-10 record: 16-19-2 (12-13-2 HE)
Finish in HE: T-6th (lost in tournament quarterfinals)
Key returners: So. F Stephane Da Costa (16-29-45), Sr. F Chris Barton (19-19-38), Sr. F Joe Cucci (8-15-23), Jr. D Karl Stollery (4-15-19), So. F Brandon Brodhag (10-7-17), Jr. G Joe Cannata (3.04, .902)
Key losses: D Pat Bowen (1-18-19), G Andrew Braithwaite (3.06, .902)
Notable freshmen: F Mike Collins, F Rhett Bly, D Brendan Ellis
Coach: Mark Dennehy

How they finished
The Warriors were one of the biggest surprises last year, finishing in a tie for sixth after being picked dead last in the preseason coaches poll. They were also one of the hottest teams down the stretch, ending the regular season on a 6-2-2 run. They pushed BU to three games in the quarterfinals, but ultimately came up short in their bid to reach the semifinals for the first time since 1998.

Offense
Merrimack returns seven of its top eight scorers and 88.1 percent of its goals from an offense that ranked fifth in the league last year. Leading the way will be French phenom Stephane Da Costa, who was named the NCAA Rookie of the Year and was a Hockey East Player of the Year finalist last season after pacing all freshmen with 45 points. His No. 1 wingman and the team’s leading goal-scorer, Chris Barton, is also back. Keep an eye on rookie and Boston native Mike Collins, who should be an everyday player.

Defense and goaltending
Joe Cannata will be counted on to be an everyday goalie this year after splitting time in net with the now-graduated Andrew Braithwaite the past two seasons. The process of Cannata taking over the reigns already began last year, though — he started 12 of the Warriors’ final 13 games. Merrimack brings back four starting defensemen in front of Cannata, led by Karl Stollery, who tied for the team lead in scoring by a defenseman last season after being named to the Hockey East All-Rookie Team two years ago. The Warriors’ biggest challenge won’t be filling holes; it will be living up to the highest expectations in the program’s history.

Scott’s poll
1) Sept. 28
2) Sept. 27
3) Sept. 24
4) Sept. 23
5) Merrimack
6) Vermont
7) Northeastern
8) Providence
9) Massachusetts-Lowell
10) Massachusetts