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Minnesota's seniors leaving with impact made off the ice

Senior Night came and went with a chance to honor three players whose contributions and work ethic has been an example that will remain with the younger group of Gophers.

Matt Christians/SBN College Hockey

Ryan Reilly hoped to play Saturday against Wisconsin.

Reilly, one of three seniors remaining on this year's Minnesota team, had not suited up since January 2nd. After appearing in 28 games his first three seasons, Reilly has been a healthy scratch in all except four this year.

Entering Minnesota with his two brothers, Ryan will be the only one honored Saturday as part of Senior Night. Joining him will be forward A.J. Michaelson and goaltender Ryan Coyne.

By the excited tone of his voice, getting one last chance to play at Mariucci Arena means a lot to the Chanhassen native.

"It goes by so fast, just thinking back to all the things I've learned and the teammates I've had, he said."

The Gopher hockey class of 2016 started with eight players. Ryan's twin brother Connor redshirted his freshman year after suffering a knee injury. Christian Horn transferred midway through year two. Three more left after their junior seasons with two, including Ryan's younger brother Mike, playing in the NHL this season.

Getting that experience to play college hockey with both brothers has been a dream come true throughout his four years at Minnesota.

"Perseverance. Even though sometimes I didn't play as much as my brothers or have as much success on the ice as them, it was fun to keep playing and work hard every day and just have fun with it," said Reilly, who has four career points (1G-3A).

Ryan's attitude has not gone unnoticed within the team.

"He's had a lot of character and he's worked hard and competed. He shows up every day with a good attitude so I respect him a lot for that," said Connor Reilly. "Ryan shows up and pushes guys and competes hard, brings a certain work ethic and attitude that of other guys can learn from, the younger guys."

Leading by example is difficult to do to begin. Not playing regularly is tough, Ryan admitted. Being the ultimate team players off the ice has made them leaders in the eyes of their teammates, however.

Coyne has made one career appearance as the third string goalie. Michaelson, with one assist this year - the only point from the class (Minnesota's juniors lead the nation with 185) - has played in 17 games mostly on the team's fourth line.

"They're great guys.  Obviously Ryno and AJ and Coyner, they're a big part of this program," said sophomore Leon Bristedt. "They may not be the biggest guys on the ice, but they're probably the biggest off the ice. Especially when I came here (as a freshman from Sweden)."

The selfless attitude, whether it is Coyne helping out forwards and goalies before or after practice, or being a good teammate to be around like Michaelson, or being an example to younger players of how to make the most of each opportunity.

It's the lasting impact, a parting gift by a senior group that enters the weekend trying to add a fourth conference title to a resume which includes a conference tournament championship and 2014 NCAA runner-up.

"All these guys are huge parts of our team. Outsiders or other people don't realize the effect or influence these guys have," said Connor, an alternate captain in the odd position of coming in with that group but not leaving.

Connor confirmed to SBN College Hockey that he plans on returning to Minnesota next season for his own senior night. This weekend still is likely the last after a lifetime of playing with one another that the two Reilly twins will be on the same team.

Ryan is getting a degree in finance. He plans on finding an internship or job in the business world after he graduates this year.

Before the real world beckons, there's still the business of his last few weekends as a Gopher.

"Whenever your time comes, be ready for it. Hopefully my time will come this weekend and Saturday to make the most of it," he said.

Reilly did. Despite losing 4-3 and having to win in order to win the Big Ten championship, Minnesota gave the off-ice leaders some on-ice time.

Even Coyne, making his Mariucci Arena regular season debut for the final 59 seconds of the trio's fourth straight regular season championship (and fifth consecutive overall) in a 4-1 win.

"To me it was about a team. You saw Eric (Schierhorn) after we went up 4-1 skated over to the bench because he wanted to get in his senior teammate. That's being unselfish and thinking of his senior teammate," said head coach Don Lucia.

"It was nice to see our seniors in it. That's something we try to do with this program, play our seniors on the last home game."

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Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation mostly covering both the University of Minnesota and Big Ten. You can also follow him on Twitter --