In Developing Story, a regular feature on collegehockeyinc.com, we highlight current college hockey players who have developed their skills during their careers – either on the ice or off – and in turn made a bigger impact on their team’s success.
Bryce Merriam learned a lot from his former goaltending partner at Rensselaer, Allen York, and he has spoken to York every week during what has been a peripatetic first pro season. York has bounced between the ECHL, AHL and NHL in the Columbus Blues Jackets system.
More on NCAA hockey's focus on player development 
Likewise, Merriam and the RPI Engineers have seen both ends of the spectrum in 2011-12. But since a trying 3-16-1 start to the season, the Engineers are trending up. From that point on, Merriam has posted an 8-5-2 record, a 1.83 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage, including last weekend’s series win at Clarkson.
Merriam credits much of his improvement in his three seasons in Troy, N.Y., to regular pre-practice sessions head coach Seth Appert holds with his goaltenders. Appert – who played goal at Ferris State – runs drills designed for his goalies two or three times a week.
Specialized goaltending coaches in college hockey are typical, but it isn’t usually from the head coach.
“That’s why goalies come to RPI – we get all the attention we need from Coach Appert,” Merriam said. “We usually go on a half hour before practice and run drills designed to help us in certain areas.”
Merriam credits these sessions with helping him to “play bigger” in the nets, to see over people in front, and to get more power in his pushes from side to side.
Those improvements have helped him evolve from a seldom-used backup who played 15 games behind York in his first two seasons to a 29-game workhorse this year.
“The situation was perfect for me,” he said. “My freshman year I wouldn’t say I was ready to be a starting goaltenders. I came in, did the extra work and watched how Yorkie played and handled himself. That really helped.”
Merriam’s development was evident from the start of the season, even if the team wasn’t enjoying success. He had a .921 save percentage through his first 10 games, not far from the standard he has set in the second half of the season. More at issue for a team trying to replace not only York but also Hobey Baker finalist Chase Polacek was offense and injury issues.
Nevertheless, the team persevered.
“The first half was what it was,” Merriam said. “We weren’t a bad team but we had to work to improve. It’s all been a process. There were stretches there that were hard, but everyone in the locker room believed in each other and believed that we were a good team.”
That belief – and the presence of a top goalie who stepped right into his friend York’s crease – helped the Engineers turn around their season entering an ECAC Hockey quarterfinal series this weekend against rival Union.