The Miami (Ohio) University RedHawks aren’t the only ones expecting big things out of senior forward Justin Mercier
during the 2008-09 campaign. The CCHA’s coaches and national media have begun to take notice as well.
Mercier was one of three players in Colorado’s system named to the 2008-09 CCHA Preseason All-Conference Team, as voted on by the league’s 12 head coaches. Mercier garnered a First Team selection, while fellow Avalanche prospects Mark Olver
(Northern Michigan University) and Billy Sauer (University of Michigan) both earned Second Team nods.
Mercier was also recently named to the College Hockey News Preseason Second Team and the Inside College Hockey Preseason All-America Third Team.
So far during the short-lived 2008-09 campaign, the 5-foot-11, 190-pound forward’s performance has lived up to the hype. Mercier scored a power-play goal and assisted on Carter Camper’s eventual game-winner to help the RedHawks to a 7-3 victory over Ohio State University on Saturday (Oct. 11).
The praise for Mercier, a sixth round (168th overall) selection in the 2005 Entry Draft, comes after he enjoyed a breakout season with the RedHawks in 2007-08.
The forward finished second on his team and fifth in the CCHA with 25 goals as a junior, nearly doubling his total from the previous two seasons combined (13). He also ranked 10th nationally in goals-per-game (0.60) and short-handed goals (3-tie) and finished tied for 11th in power-play tallies (10).
To achieve what he did, Mercier took care of business the old fashioned way by putting in hours upon hours of hard work to improve all facets of his game.
“My coaches really focused on the things I needed to improve on. Working down low, working on my shot, getting the releases off,” said Mercier. “I also have to give some credit to my linemates. I played with a freshman last year, Carter Camper, who was remarkable. Basically, if I was open he was going to get me the puck.”
|Mercier notched a career-high 25 goals last season at Miami (Ohio) University |
Mercier has never been known as a natural goal scorer. He tallied 10 goals as a sophomore in 2006-07 and had three the previous season – his freshman year at Miami. In the two years before he arrived at Miami, he never topped 12 goals while skating with the U.S National Team Development Program and the USHL’s St. Louis Heartland Eagles.
However, Mercier began to garner national attention quickly during his junior season. A hot start led to a nod as RBC Financial Group CCHA Player of the Month for October after Mercier led the nation with six goals (6g/2a).
“My coaches really focused on my shot. One of the big things was that the power was always there, but hitting the net was another story. It sounds so trivial, but it is really an important thing. With the coaches helping me out, it was able to come together for me.”
But Mercier is not focused solely on his offensive game. Known as a two-way forward who works equally as hard without the puck, he was a finalist for the CCHA Defensive Player of the Year award in 2007-08, finishing behind Michigan State’s Justin Abdelkader in the voting.
“I’ve always been able to score, but it’s not been my forte, I guess you could say. And my coaches always had me focus on penalty killing,” said Mercier. “I figured those games when you can’t put the puck in the net, you have to keep the other teams from doing it. I just wanted to make sure every time I was out on the ice I was doing something, whether it was scoring or stopping the other team.”
And what many young, aspiring hockey players often don’t grasp is that strong play in the defensive zone can often translate into scoring chances on the offensive end.
“You wouldn’t believe how easy it can be to take advantage of other teams who are all about offense. What’s the old saying? The best offense is a good defense? By being able to contain in the defensive zone you can get control of the puck and take it down for a scoring opportunity.”
During this, his senior season at Miami, Mercier is taking on more of a leadership role than ever before. While he’s not wearing a letter on his sweater to make that responsibility official, Mercier has taken the lessons he learned from previous leaders of the RedHawks and is trying to use them to help out a young squad.
“I think a lot of it had to do with the guys who came before me. I really looked up to Ryan Jones, Matt Christie and Andy Greene,” said the Erie, Pa., native. “I saw how those guys led and you just try to follow in their footsteps, lead by example and be good in the locker room. They showed me how to take the reins.”
Mercier and the RedHawks, ranked No. 7 in this week’s USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine Men’s College Hockey Poll, will look to improve upon their solid start to the 2008-09 season this weekend when they face the University of Vermont for a pair of contests.