The stakes were high enough for Merrimack, but no one had to tell Mike Collins. The Roslindale native, who grew up so close to Boston, played baseball until he was 13, although he said he never had visions of making it to the grand stage of Fenway Park.
Still, Collins needed no reminding or motivating entering Saturday afternoon's game against Providence, the number four team in the country, in a venue he grew up attending as a fan, of the opportunity. And with his Warriors locked in a scoreless tie against the Friars in the third period, Collins scored the game's first and his team's only goal.
"I never thought I'd have the chance to play here," he said. "Looking down the road here, looking back a couple of years from now it will mean a lot more to me. It really hasn't sunk in yet."
With Merrimack on a brief 5-on-3 power play, Collins took a pass off the half-wall, and walked the puck down through the circle. Even as Friars goalie Nick Ellis occupied most of the net, Collins roofed a wrist shot over his should and just under the crossbar to give Merrimack the lead.
"[Brendan Ellis] dragged the defender over, he made a good play, he dished it to me, and I caught Ellis on the short-side," Collins said.
While Providence was able to equalize late in the third period, and the game went down as a non-conference tie, it was still a big result for Merrimack against one of the nation's top team, and an all-time moment for a local player to cherish.
"You kind of get up a lot more for these games than a normal game. It's a once in a lifetime thing," Collins said. "I just go out and try to play my game."
According to his coach Mark Dennehey, to Collin's credit, he kept the even-keel he normally plays with, despite every reason to get lost in the setting.
"He doesn't get too high, he doesn't get too low, and when the game is on the line, and the puck is on his stick, he doesn't panic. He's got ice water in his veins," he said. "He's been that type of player since he's got here.
"Really special, and you just want to get him on the ice as much as possible because he's dangerous on the time."
Still, Collins wasn't without his moments of awe.
"There were a lot of times when they stopped to fix the ice," he said. "Sitting there, looking around, you're like, ‘wow, this is actually happening, There's this many people here; they're here to watch us.' That was really cool."
Collins and Dennehey both said that getting a chance to practice in Fenway on Friday, a day ahead of the game, helped to cool some of the nerves, and eliminate some of the jitters and novelty.
"Practicing here yesterday was the day to do it," Collins said. "Today, we had to come in and focus, and try to win the game. Obviously, that's our ultimate goal.
"Yesterday was good to do it. We had some fun yesterday."
Just miles away from where he grew up, Collins sported a smile when asked if he had any family and friends here.
"I believe I do," he said, with a chuckle.
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