Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Mark Dennehy- Thanks for the memories

I realized today that it has been a while- quite a long while- that this blog has seen any action. With all of the hustle and bustle, life's responsibilities, sometimes things get pushed in the background. While I am really interested in getting podcasting going and off the ground, I was also reminded about the value of blogs- and since I have a couple of blogs out there, it's time to get them going again.

With that being said, I'd like to devote this time to share my thoughts on the recent departure of our head coach of the Merrimack men's hockey team of 13 years, Mark Dennehy. To begin with some context- after eliminating the defending league champion UMass Lowell River Hawks the weekend before in two dogfights, on Saturday night, March 10, the Warriors lost a grueling series with Boston College, getting eliminated from the tournament- losing the second game in heartbreaking fashion, 4-3 in overtime. It ended a series which I felt Merrimack was the better team- the shots on goal for the series certainly indicated the discrepancy to which I felt Merrimack carried the play (70-35 for the two games). I remember the feeling I had when I signed off at Conte Forum that night- the emotions ran the gamut- heartbreak, sadness, maybe a little bit of anger, bewilderment, you get the picture. The end of a hockey season is tough- particularly if you fall short of the ultimate goal- winning a championship- and particularly when it ends suddenly and abruptly like ours did. That's the beauty and the pain of hockey- playoff hockey- sudden death means sudden death. When it ends, it ends immediately, and your season can end that way. 

Driving home from BC that night I tried to process what I had seen, and how proud I was of our team and how we fought. Remember, we're talking about playing the # 1 seed of the whole tournament- in their barn, and us being the 10 seed- in a place that has been a struggle to win at- not just us, but the whole of the league. We were the underdogs. No one gave us a chance. I reflected on how we battled and how our coaching staff led these guys into battle and how we damned near pulled it off. As Jace Hennig said in his letter to the coaching staff, the team was just one bounce away from having it go the other way. Just one bounce. 

I found out the next morning that Merrimack had made the decision to let Coach Dennehy go, along with assistant coach Bill Gilligan. Curtis Carr would be staying on for at least the interim. I was quite shocked and saddened to hear this news, to say the least.  I just remember feeling numb, very numb. I remember talking to Mike Machnik that day via phone. I also remember feeling very sad for Mark, his wife Heather, and their three daughters. Like many others, my first impulse was to ask "why?". 

We may never know the answers, and my objective here is not to be critical of my employers decision, especially since the facts are not known. My purpose here is to thank Mark and show my appreciation for his body of work. 

As I said in a Facebook post, I met Mark in the late summer of 2005, when we were both hired at Merrimack. His first game on the bench was my first game on the air. We went to Bowling Green, Ohio, that first night, and Mark won his first game as bench boss of the Warriors, 3-2, and then we went off to Michigan two days later and lost 9-2. The team flew out to the midwest, as college hockey teams always do. I drove out there and met the team there- the things you do to make a good first impression. 

As those early years continued onward, it was a real struggle on the ice. The team went 3-27-4 in Mark's second year, and he was under a lot of pressure. Mark had to basically convince the administration at Merrimack that Division 1 hockey was the right fit for the Warriors- he had to provide compelling evidence that they could stay where they were. I remember that Jack Parker also tried to compel Mark to leave Hockey East. But Mark stuck to his guns and never quit. He believed in this program and where he felt they could not only stay, but thrive. 

The team improved, and it hit a real high water mark in 2010- winning 25 games, going 25-10-4, going to the Hockey East Championship game at TD Garden, then making their way to the NCAA Regionals in Manchester, N.H., losing to Notre Dame, a future Hockey East opponent. 

We also got to work a game at Fenway Park- and Mark was kind enough to honor my ten year service at Merrimack with an authentic game jersey with my last name and the number 10 on the back- one of the most wonderful gifts I've ever received (Derek Petti thanks for sharing your number with me). 

Not to digress here, but I'll get back to Mark himself now. All you need to know about this man is all the support he is getting from the college hockey world and the impact he has had on everyone that has come into contact with him- players, coaches, broadcasters, officials- you name it, every single person I've seen has been overly supportive of Mark and how he handles himself. In my own personal case, where do I begin? I interviewed Mark prior to many of the games I've done at Merrimack, and he couldn't have been more classy and professional. He truly cared about you and your life. He wanted to get to know you. And it wasn't fake or phony. He made you feel like family. That's how he treated the whole experience at Merrimack. If something happened in your life that made you happy, Mark was genuinely happy. If things weren't going so hot he'd be concerned for you, and it was real. You could feel it. 

I know how the players felt about him. They would go through a wall for him. And I would too. Every single broadcast we did it was always my goal to have passion and energy , to make the broadcast something Mark could be proud of. He cared about every single detail of Merrimack hockey down to the studs, and we were a part of that. I wanted radio to be the last thing he'd ever have to worry about, and I think we achieved that goal.

To finish up, I know Mark will land on his feet. Good coaches do and good people do. He will wind up with another team and he will make them better. Their gain is our loss. Will it feel strange walking into Merrimack in October and not seeing him there? You better believe it will. He has left a major, indelible imprint on this school and this team. His legacy will forever be etched in the history of this program. Nothing will ever take away from that. 

I want to thank Mark again here, on this public forum, for everything. His patience, tolerance, friendship, and the skill with which he performed on a nightly basis. A piece of him will always be with us. I know it will be for me for sure.

Here is an interview I did with Mark in Providence, RI on 1-6-18. I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as I enjoyed conducting it.