The team was coming off an eight-win season (8-26-2) the year prior, the 16th straight losing season for the club. After the 2007-08 season, Dennehy and his staff sought after a high school senior goaltender from the Boston area, Joe Cannata, and the rest is history.
Dennehy and the Vancouver Canucks 2009 draft pick would help change the identity of Merrimack hockey, turning the Warriors into a legit contender.
Now Dennehy knows it won’t be long before Cannata is making a name for himself with the AHL’s Chicago Wolves – and soon maybe even the Canucks.
Canucks.com: When you first arrived at Merrimack the team had gone 16 years without a winning season, now after back-to-back winning seasons, how different is the excitement level these days around campus compared to when you first arrived?
Dennehy: It is at an all-time high. We have sold out 33-35 home games over the past two years.
CDC: How competitive was the recruiting for Joe Cannata? With so many great hockey programs in the area did find yourself battling with other schools to get him to sign?
D: We identified Joe before most schools. I knew his coach at BB&N (Prep School) and BC High, so we went after him as hard as the NCAA would allow. We wanted to build our program from the net out and felt he was a great foundation.
CDC: During his freshman season, six times he allowed two goals or less, but didn’t get the win (3 losses, 3 ties), a lack of goal support was something he had to deal with that season. Did he ever get frustrated? Or did he always keep a positive attitude?
D: Joe Cannata has been blessed with a wonderful disposition for a goaltender. He does his job and doesn't get rattled by his environment. He wants to win, but does his job first. If he was frustrated, he never let the coaching staff or his teammates see it.
CDC: He was drafted by the Vancouver Canucks in the sixth round, 173rd overall after his freshman season. How excited was he to be drafted into the NHL? Did you get a chance to talk to him on draft day?
D: He was excited to be drafted, but even more so with being drafted by Vancouver. I called and congratulated him and his family.
CDC: He played almost every minute in net for the Warriors over his last 2 seasons, what was the reasoning behind that?
D: We made the organizational decision to run with him at the end of his sophomore year. He earned it. Needless to say, he did not disappoint.
CDC: How much of an impact did he have on the culture change of Merrimack Hockey?
D: Joe is a big time goalie and a winner. He played a huge part in changing our culture to a winning one. I used to kid him that he only needed to make one save a game, the game winner. Well, no one in the history of our school ever made more...
CDC: What did he improve most over his time at Merrimack?
D: Joe improved in two areas more than any other his four years at Merrimack. He learned to work harder to find pucks, especially on the penalty kill where teams screen more effectively. He also really worked on how he handled the puck. I was amazed at how much growth he made in this area.
CDC: When he signed the contract with the Canucks after his season was over, did you guys get a chance to talk? And if so what was that conversation like?
D: He was excited. I congratulated him on fulfilling a dream, but it is only part of his dream. He understands that this is a new beginning, and he will have to elevate his game even more if he is to have a chance to make it to the NHL.
CDC: What would you say is his greatest strength in net?
D: Joe has a beautiful butterfly and is big and blocky up top. He makes a lot of saves look easy, but it’s his disposition that really separates him. Goalies are going to give up goals; it is how he deals with it mentally that separated him at our level. He never got rattled. He's a gamer.
CDC: A lot of people in Vancouver are familiar with what he did on the ice at Merrimack, but what is he like off the ice?
D: Joe is a respectful, mild mannered, even keeled young man. Still, he has an inner confidence about his abilities. He was a star for us, but never acted like one or expected special treatment. He was easy to coach.
CDC: Thanks for your time Coach Dennehy, good luck next season with the Warriors.