Denver Hockey Series Preview: Merrimack & Air Force

Photo courtesy of The Denver Post

The Denver Pioneers return to action this weekend when they host Merrimack and Air Force

In their final series of 2017, the Pioneers host Merrimack and Air Force with hopes of finishing the year strong at home.  The Pios have somewhat stumbled their way into 2018 with some questionable ties and losses, but they still have the potential to be a contender come April for the Frozen Four.

Every team experiences their ups and downs throughout the year, but this past series with Dartmouth could be a turning point for the Pioneers.  Head coach Jim Montgomery called out his players saying that there is a problem with their character after his team gave up another late game lead.

The start of a new year is the perfect time for the Pioneers to wipe the slate clean and start playing a full sixty minute game.

Strengths

Merrimack

Clutch Players

While only having a record of  4-9-4, Merrimack looks like they have a few “go-to” players who like to have the puck on their stick when it matters.  Forwards Jace Henning and Sami Tavernier each have four power play goals and have over 35 shots this season.  Henning also has two game winning goals.

It will be interesting how Jim Montgomery plans to shut down Merrimack’s top line considering Colorado College had one dominant line who ended up being very successful against Denver.

The Warriors can close

In the four games that Merrimack has led after two periods, they’re currently 4-0-1.  Those wins came against UMass, Bently, Army, and New Hampshire.

Unfortunately, DU has a bad habit of giving up late game leads that is becoming more of a problem each game.  If Merrimack can take a lead into the 3rd or at least keep things close, who knows what could happen anymore.

Air Force

The Falcons can also close

Similar to Merrimack, the Falcons have a good record when leading after two.  In fact, they’re undefeated at 7-0-0.  Air Force has some sneaky good play-makers throughout their lineup so Denver will have to be well prepared for this in-state game.

Potential

A lot of people thought Air Force was going to win the Atlantic Hockey Conference but it hasn’t gone that way so far this year.  The Falcons too are looking to have a bounce-back second half and the Pioneers are just another team in their way of proving their true potential.  After winning six of their first seven games to start the season, there’s no reason the Falcons couldn’t go on another run like that.  Especially if teams like Notre Dame have done so and they weren’t even considered a true contender this season.

Opportunities

Merrimack

Poor Special Teams

The Warriors have not been great on special teams this year executing on the power play at 22% and killing off penalties at just 72%.  It seems like the Pioneers get ample chances on the PP and are successful when they attack the net hard.  Look for the Pioneers to play hard to try and earn more opportunities to let their stars go to work.

Second Period Woes

The Warriors have kept up with their opponents this year in the 1st and 3rd periods as far as goals and shots, but the second period is where they generally lose their competitive advantage.  Merrimack is currently -11 in goal differential and -8 in shot differential during the second period this year.  The Pioneers may need to push back more in the second if the Warriors tend to take their foot off the gas after the first 20 minutes.

Air Force

Stale

The Falcons haven’t played hockey since the weekend of December 1st when they lost a pair of games to Niagra at home.  They do host the Colorado College Tigers on Friday before they play in Denver, but that may not be enough time to shake off the rust.

With the Pioneers in a unique position where they are trying to find consistency, look for them to not waste any time getting a quick start.  In order for the Pioneers to have a strong finish to the season, they must win the majority of their home games and be just as competitive on the road.

Scoring First

Currently, the Falcons are 2-6-2 when their opponents score first.  Getting a lot of shots on net will also be important for the Pioneers.  Something that Dartmouth did that Denver doesn’t do enough of is shoot from anywhere on the ice.  Scoring fluke goals with the element of surprise is something that all teams should do.  A lot of Denver’s shots from the point get blocked in traffic.  Maybe their focus should be more tough angle shots that get to the goaltender cleanly.

Merrimack College Men's Hockey vs. University of Maine
Photo courtesy of The Mack Report

Who to Watch:  

Merrimack

#9 – F – Jace Hennig – 7G, 8A

#13 – F – Brett Seney – 4G, 11A (2015 NJ 6th)

#15 – D – Jared Kolquist – 3G, 11A

#15 – D – Johnathan Kovacevic – 1G, 9A (2017 WPG 3rd)

#29 – G – Craig Pantano – 4-4-2, 2.38GAA, .915SV%

Air Force

#15 – F – Evan Giesler – 5G, 8A

#10 – F – Jordan Himley – 5G, 8A

#12 – F – Matt Serratore – 7G, 4A

#7 – D – Matt Koch – 3G, 8A

#44 – G – Billy Christopoulos – 7-8-3, 2.68GAA, .901SV%

Air Force falls to DU 4-3 in OT
Photo courtesy of Air Force Athletics

Prediction – Denver defeats Merrimack & Air Force

Calling out your team, especially your upperclassmen isn’t a card you want to play unless you have to. Jim Montgomery did just that.  The team can either take responsibility for their complacency and start the second half with a new determination or continue playing with bad habits.  The former will come to fruition because of the strong leadership core on this team.  The Pioneers will also have some extra motivation as the team recently lost a close friend in Pete Naffah.

Twitter Follow:  @MerrimackMIH & @AF_HKY

Where to Watch / Listen

Friday – 7:05pm MT, Altitude 2, 104.3 The Fan

Saturday –7:05pm MT, Altitude 2, 104.3 The Fan

4 thoughts on “Denver Hockey Series Preview: Merrimack & Air Force”

  1. This is a very important weekend for DU. Last weekend of non-conference opponents before 14 NCHC games to finish the regular season. Pios need to set the tone and begin building positive momentum for the 2nd half of the season. Hopefully the stench from that Dartmouth loss is gone.

    Team USA laid an egg yesterday in a classic trap game. Huge challenge today. Should be interesting.

    Like

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