The 2009-10 and 2010-11 All-New England Coach of the Year, Mark Dennehy is entering his 12th season behind the bench of the Merrimack College men's ice hockey team in 2016-17.
In his more-than decade on campus, Dennehy has completely rebuilt the brand of Warrior Hockey, elevating the program from an era that saw it struggle from a competitive standpoint into a Hockey East conference power year in and year out. He holds an overall record of 144-234-53, which includes one season as the head coach of Fairfield University before his arrival in North Andover.
Last winter, Dennehy's efforts helped the team start and finish the season strong en route to posting its highest finish in the league standings (seventh) in three years. Merrimack also advanced to the quarterfinal round of the Hockey East Tournament for the second year in a row and 20th time in school history.
With his team comprised of 17 underclassmen -- good for the 11th-youngest class in all of college hockey -- Dennehy guided the Warriors to a stellar start in 2015-16, posting a 6-1-3 record through the first 10 games of the year to climb as high as 13th in both national polls. Merrimack claimed victories or ties against six teams that were either nationally ranked or receiving votes in either national poll during that hot start to the season.
After enduring a tough stretch in the middle portion of the year, the Warriors righted the ship in February, going 3-2-2 in the final month highlighted by a sweep against the University of Vermont at home to clinch a home-ice playoff series for only the third time since the program joined the Division I ranks.
There, Merrimack would rally back from a one-game deficit to defeat the University of New Hampshire in a thrilling Hockey East Tournament Opening Round series, as Dennehy assured that the last game played at Lawler Rink in 2015-16 was a victory. Overall, Merrimack went 13-19-7 on the year with a 9-5-5 mark in North Andover.
In 2014-15, Dennehy led a team that was comprised of 10 freshmen to an eight-win improvement from the previous season. Merrimack soared out of the gate, posting a 10-5-2 record in its first 17 games to account for the team's best record at the end of the first half since 2011-12. With 10 wins in 15 tries, Dennehy also led Merrimack to its second-quickest start to a 10-win season since joining Hockey East in 1989-90.
Along the way, the Warriors defeated five ranked opponents, with two of those victories coming on the road (#8 Minnesota, #12 Quinnipiac). Merrimack started the year with four straight wins and finished 16-18-4, including a 9-4-2 record at Lawler Rink to post a top-four home record winning percentage (.667) in Hockey East. Dennehy also guided the Warriors to a Hockey East Tournament Opening Round sweep of sixth-seeded Northeastern to earn the program's 19th appearance in the league tournament quarterfinals.
He wrapped up his ninth season on campus with eight wins in 2013-14, one that was highlighted by wins against two wins against nationally ranked opponents, including fifth-ranked Quinnipiac, the national runner-up from a year prior, and an appearance in the Hockey East Tournament. The Warriors also appeared in Citi Frozen Fenway 2014, battling fourth-ranked Providence to a draw in front of the largest crowd ever in single-game program history.
Dennehy reached the 100-win milestone during the 2012-13 campaign, one that saw the Warriors contend from start to finish and was highlighted by the team occupying first place in Hockey East the latest into a season since the Warriors joined the conference.
Finishing the year 15-17-6 overall but 13-11-3 in Hockey East, the third straight year in which the team posted a winning record in conference play, Merrimack caught fire in the second half of the season, clawing over .500 with marquee victories against eventual NCAA Frozen Four participant UMass Lowell and regular season champion Boston College at Lawler Rink. The Warriors eventually settled for sixth place in a jam-packed conference leader board. That was enough to earn the program's fourth consecutive trip to the Hockey East Tournament, where Merrimack would bow out in the Quarterfinals.
In 2011-12, Dennehy's squad claimed yet another piece of history after earning its first-ever No. 1 national ranking in school history thanks to a 9-0-1 start to the year. Merrimack was also ranked nationally every week for the first time ever, including an appearance in the top 10-for a span of 17 straight weeks. After falling in three games in the Hockey East Quarterfinals, Merrimack narrowly missed a second consecutive berth in the NCAA Tournament.
The highlight of Dennehy's coaching career with the Warriors came in 2010-11, when Merrimack reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1987-88 while setting a Division I school record with 25 wins and reaching the Hockey East Championship for the first time ever.
That season, Merrimack defeated every Hockey East team for the second straight year and was ranked nationally for the final 17 weeks of the season, reaching a season-high No. 4 national ranking in February. The Warriors appeared on television six times, including the Hockey East Championship against Boston College and nationally in the NCAA Tournament against Notre Dame.
Dennehy was rewarded with contract extensions in December of 2010 and July of 2011 and will remain behind the Merrimack bench through the 2018-19 season.
Dennehy volunteered to take a more active administrative role in 2012 and was named Associate Athletic Director in August of that year. In addition to his coaching responsibilities, Dennehy spearheads the department's management of the renovated and expanded Merrimack Athletics Center, including the second ice rink, new Strength and Conditioning Center and new Sports Medicine Center.
Under Dennehy's guidance, the crowds have returned to a renovated Lawler Rink over his tenure, as Merrimack has established itself as one of the top home-ice team in all of Hockey East in recent years. Since 2009-10, the Warriors have posted a record of 69-33-15 within the friendly confines of Lawler Rink, fueled by a school-record 15 sellouts in 17 games in 2011-12. Merrimack has played to at least eight sellout crowds in each of the last three seasons, as well.
The 2009-10 Co-Hockey East Coach of the Year, Dennehy saw the fruits of his labors become a reality that winter as the Warriors won a then-Division I program-record 16 games and qualified for the Hockey East Tournament for the first time since Hockey East expanded to 10 schools. After finishing sixth in the regular season, Merrimack then proceeded to win a playoff game for the first time since 1998 and defeated every Hockey East team at home and overall for the first time in the program's history.
Heralded as one of the top recruiters in the country, Dennehy and his staff's efforts have gained nationwide respect considering the fact that Merrimack - the second-smallest Division I men's ice hockey program in the country - is constantly battling for top recruits against the likes of Boston College, Boston University, Maine, New Hampshire, and Notre Dame.
Dennehy's recruiting prowess has led him to the previously-unheard-of talents of former players such as Stephane Da Costa, who was named the NCAA and Hockey East Rookie of the Year in 2009-10 and was named an All-American in 2010-11. As a freshman in 2010-11, unheralded recruit Mike Collins led Hockey East in goals and points among rookies, while Joe Cannata, the first-ever Merrimack player to come from the U.S. Under-18 Development Program, completed his illustrious career as the school leader in wins (59), saves (3,152), goals-against average (2.47), save percentage (.915), games (122) and minutes (7,146).
In the classroom, Dennehy's student-athletes rank among the best in Hockey East. A league-high 19 members of the team earned Hockey East All-Academic Team distinction in 2015-16, marking the third straight year and the fifth time in the last eight years that the team paced Hockey East in all-academic accolades. Merrimack has also had a Top Scholar-Athlete in each of the last three years and had five student-athletes earn that distinction in 2015-16.
More impressively, the program posted a perfect Academic Progress Rate (APR) score for the third straight year and earned an NCAA Public Recognition Award for ranking in the top-10 percent nationwide in APR for the third year in a row.
Dennehy was named the seventh head hockey coach in Merrimack College history on June 30, 2005. Dennehy came from the University of Massachusetts Amherst where he worked with former UMass head coach Don Cahoon from 2000-2005.
While at UMass, Dennehy was a part of an award-winning coaching staff in the 2002-03 season under Cahoon's tutelage and was involved in all aspects of coaching the Minutemen, including recruiting, video analysis, fundraising, marketing, and on ice instruction. He was a part of one of the quickest rebuilding processes in the history of college hockey. The UMass team advanced to the finals of the 2003 Hockey East Tournament in just the third season under Cahoon and his staff.
Prior to his position at UMass, Dennehy worked for Cahoon at Princeton from 1994-99. He helped the Tigers to three consecutive ECAC 'Final Five' tournaments in Lake Placid. In 1997-98, Dennehy contributed toward Princeton's first ever ECAC championship and only NCAA appearance in the long and distinguished history of the program.
From there, he became the head coach at Fairfield University for the 1999-2000 campaign before joining 'Toot' again at UMass.
Dennehy has recruited or coached seven All-American players, including three straight between 2011-2013 (Da Costa, Cannata, Collins); three Hockey Humanitarian Award Finalists; eight all-rookie team members; and 13 all-league selections. He also was responsible for recruiting Los Angeles Kings and Team USA goaltender Jonathan Quick during his time at UMass, and former Washington Capitals captain Jeff Halpern while at Princeton.
More recently, Dennehy created, founded, and directed the U.S. College Hockey Advancement Camp. The first of its kind in the east, the USCHA attracts prospects and their families from all over North America. This prospect camp is fully staffed with college hockey coaches. The schedule includes practices, seminars, and games each day. The seminars include topics such as the NCAA Clearinghouse, Strength & Conditioning, and a panel discussion between the prospects, their parents, and college coaches.
A member of the American Hockey Coaches Association since 1994, Dennehy was named to the AHCA Board of Governors in 2006. He has also volunteered for both Massachusetts Hockey and USA Hockey.
A native of Dorchester, Massachusetts, Dennehy helped Boston College win three Hockey East regular season titles and played on the 1989-90 Hockey East Championship team and was a part of three NCAA qualifying teams, including the 1990 team that advanced to the Frozen Four at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
He then went on to play a season in Britain's elite league for the Ayr Raiders in 1991-92. Dennehy parlayed that into a tryout with the Fort Wayne Comets in the IHL before trading in his skates for a whistle.
Dennehy resides in Andover, Massachusetts, with his wife Heather and three daughters, Kelsey, Kielan, and Caroline.