Boston College hockey alum Mark Dennehy became head coach of the Merrimack Warriors in 2005-06, at a time when Merrimack had historically finished either last or second to last pretty much every year in its history.
The Warriors went 6-23-5 in his first year, and 3-27-4 in his second. But by year 5, Merrimack put together a 6th place finish in the conference and made the league playoffs for the first time since the league expanded beyond the point of every team qualifying. And then in 2010-11, Merrimack burst on to the national scene, posting a 25-10-4 record and making the NCAA hockey tournament, also pushing BC in the Hockey East tournament final that year before falling on a late BC game winner.
Even the records potentially don’t tell the tale of how much Dennehy had to work through in order to find some success at Merrimack:
Wrote this about Mark Dennehy when things ended with Merrimack. I don't think people understand how low the MC program was when he took over. I was there as a student, on the student staff, when he took over. Administratively, the school was a mess towards hockey. pic.twitter.com/Wjt9hTS0qQ— Mike McMahon (@MikeMcMahonCHN) April 14, 2022
Dennehy’s success at Merrimack with a program that seemed destined for the chopping block built his profile as a coach and got him on the radar for potentially bigger jobs down the road - including at BC, his alma mater.
Dennehy, a blueliner, played for four years at BC, including a Frozen Four year in 1990. He played pro hockey in Europe briefly before starting a pro career as an assistant coach at Princeton. He was briefly head coach at Fairfield in 1999-2000, then served 5 years as assistant coach at UMass under Toot Cahoon before landing the Merrimack job.
While Merrimack was never able to repeat the feat of making the NCAA tournament under Dennehy, he kept the under-resourced program competitive throughout his tenure, which ran through 2018 and included winning seasons in Hockey East play in 2011-12 and 2012-13.
When Dennehy was unceremoniously let go by Merrimack after a 2018 playoff run in which the Warriors swept UMass-Lowell in the opening round, then battled BC tooth-and-nail to two one-goal losses in the quarterfinal, there was quite a bit of uproar on his behalf around the college hockey community, given Dennehy’s relative success with the program.
Dennehy moved on to the AHL, where he worked as head coach for the Binghamton Devils, before being promoted to Chief Scout of Amateur Scouting for the Devils organization last summer.
Dennehy, 54, is a native of Dorchester and by all accounts is a great guy and someone who has deep respect of his teammates and colleagues through the years.
Dennehy’s name hasn’t really been linked much to college openings in recent years since leaving Merrimack, as he seems to be finding success in the pro game - but that changed with the opening of the BC job, given his status as a BC alum.
The pros and cons on Dennehy are pretty clear:
In the ‘pro’ column, Dennehy has deep experience at the collegiate and professional levels and clearly was able to maximize his resources at Merrimack, which faces significant challenges in competing with big programs in Hockey East. He gained the respect of the broader coaching and Hockey East community for the job he did there and obviously has a skillset valued by the Devils organization, too.
In the ‘con’ column, Merrimack was never able to replicate its NCAA tournament appearance from 2011. Additionally, Merrimack’s recruiting pool is entirely different from a place like BC; Merrimack in many ways was a pioneer of recruiting overage players and globalizing recruiting - a necessary part of recruiting in college hockey these days, but still not likely to be front and center to the approach at a bluechip program like BC.
Dennehy would bring to BC the resume of a respected BC alum who clearly knows how to coach and motivate his team - but Dennehy-to-BC would likely require a significant change in recruiting or playing style either by Dennehy, or by BC.
As a result, Dennehy - like Scott Gordon, whose entire experience has pretty much been in the NHL, so also a bit of a mismatch - has generally been considered a less likely candidate than Mike Cavanaugh or Greg Brown - but certainly a candidate likely to get a look and an interview if he’s interested in the job.