North Andover, Mass. -- In what has been a disappointing season for the Merrimack College hockey team, Saturday's game marks the final home game for six seniors who have been part of some of the brightest moments in program history.
As freshmen, the group was part of the first Warriors team to advance to the NCAA Tournament since 1988. Merrimack captured home ice in the Hockey East quarterfinals for the time since 1997 and made it all the way to the Hockey East championship game for the first time in program history. The Warriors were hard luck losers to Notre Dame in overtime of the NCAA Northeast Regional semifinal.
The next season, Merrimack vaulted to the top of the USCHO.com Poll in late November. A second half slide prevented the team from making its second consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament, as the Warriors finished right outside of the Pairwise bubble.
Last year, Merrimack found itself in first place of the Hockey East standings in February before finishing sixth and losing to Boston University in the Hockey East Quarterfinals.
Mark Dennehy's team will finish last place in this class' final season, but that should not damper the accomplishments of this group. Led by three-year captain and star defenseman Jordan Heywood, this is a group that brought great pride to the school and the fan base.
Mike Collins, a talented scorer out of nearby Catholic Memorial, has become a solid two-way player that Dennehy relies in all situations. Brendan Ellis has been a dependable defenseman in both ends of the ice, and has been solid on the power play. Rhett Bly is one of the best in the business at the face-off dot and has been a stalwart on the penalty kill. Sam Marotta had a stellar run between the pipes in January and February of last season and Tom McCarthy has seen time on the blue line.
Merrimack doesn't have much to play for tonight except pride and momentum heading into the playoffs, but it can certainly play spoiler with UNH looking to secure home ice in the quarterfinals.
Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.