ORONO, Maine — When he stepped on the Maine campus three years ago, Will Merchant’s resume included 69 goals and 59 assists in three seasons at Eagan High School in Minnesota and a Mr. Minnesota Hockey finalist slot.
Goals have been hard to come by for Merchant in his three seasons at Maine but he has reinvented himself and is contributing in other ways for the Black Bears, as they prepare for a home-and-home Hockey East series against archrival New Hampshire this weekend.
Maine hosts UNH on Friday night before traveling to Durham, New Hampshire, for a Saturday night game.
Merchant, who has six goals and seven assists in 85 career games, has evolved into a versatile and effective winger, playing on a line with 11 different teammates.
He has been on the hardworking and gritty fourth line with freshmen Cedric Lacroix and Malcolm Hayes but he has also played several games on the top line with All-American center and captain Devin Shore.
Merchant, a junior has become an effective checker and penalty-killer and has played an important role in Maine’s defensive resurgence. Maine has allowed just nine goals in its past six games and has killed 20 of the 22 power-play chances in that span.
“We’re obviously trying new things to try to get more scoring. I don’t care where I’m playing as long as I’m doing my job. Wherever they put me, I’ll do it,” said Merchant. “I’ve had to change my role. I’m more of a power forward. I’m one of the bigger guys on the team so I accept my role and I enjoy it now. It’s fun.”
Senior defenseman Jake Rutt said Merchant has a lot of upside.
— Will Merchant
“He’s a real smooth skater. He’s tough to play one-on-one when he has the puck. He’s very good defensively,” Rutt said. “He’s so mobile that he takes a lot of passing lanes away and blocks a lot of shots. He’s a very versatile forward. He can be on a scoring line or a third and fourth checking line.”
Shore said Merchant’s biggest asset is speed.
“He can skate like the wind,” Shore said. “The name of the game is skating and speed and when you have it like he has it, it makes for a very versatile player. He can fill a bunch of different roles.”
He has two goals and three assists in 23 games but both goals have come in his past eight games.
Merchant has incurred the wrath of Maine’s second-year head coach Red Gendron, as have the rest of his teammates, but he has handled the criticism well and it has fostered his improvement.
“He wants to make us better players. He has pushed me to the best I can be. It took a while longer than expected but it has worked out. It has been fun,” he said. “I’ve tried to be more consistent day in and day out in all zones.
“I need to used my speed to take the body … be good defensively and on the PK [penalty kill]. And I’m trying everyday to become a better scorer,” Merchant said.
He is looking forward to the weekend.
“It’s UNH. That’s all that needs to be said,” he said. “It’s rivalry week.”
This article was written by Larry Mahoney from Bangor Daily News, Maine and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.