Merrimack College travels to UConn this weekend in full-blown playoff mode. The Warriors enter the final weekend of the regular season knowing exactly what they need to do in order to earn a spot in the Hockey East playoffs for the second consecutive season.
Merrimack trails the Huskies by two points for the last spot in the tournament. After beating the Huskies earlier this year, Merrimack only needs to make up those two points and tie the Huskies when the two games conclude on Saturday afternoon.
If Merrimack loses on Friday, the Warriors will be out of the playoffs. If the Warriors win on Friday, they’ll need to tie the Huskies on Saturday and if the Warriors tie on Friday, they’ll need that win on Saturday.
The scenarios might seem confusing, but not to Merrimack junior captain Paige Voight.
“We need to pull out wins,” she said. “This feels like the playoffs now. This weekend is huge. We obviously need these points so I think these games, for us, will have the feeling of a playoff game. We’ve prepared well but even this week, it feels like we’re getting ready for playoffs.
“We played well earlier this year (against UConn). We came out strong and we need to do that again. We need to play together and we know what is on the line.”
Merrimack will travel to UConn on Friday and spend the night in Storrs after the Friday night game. Saturday’s game is set for 2 p.m.
“Being away lets us just focus on hockey,” Voight said. “There aren’t as many outside distractions. You’re on the bus, you’re at the hotel, and you’re just spending a lot more time together as a team. I think that helps with the team chemistry and getting us ready to play.”
Merrimack is playing well after struggling in the middle of the season. The Warriors began the season with wins over Boston University and Minnesota, but then goals were suddenly hard to come by.
But since Jan. 5, the Warriors are a .500 team (5-5) with wins over No. 10 Providence, on the road, as well as road wins at Vermont and at Maine.
“We’ve had really high highs and really low lows,” Voight said. “It’s been an up-and-down season for us. But, we’ve come a long way. We started strong, it got rocky in the middle and after Christmas we really came together. We know what we need to do and we’re very focused. Everyone is ready to put forth the effort we need to take points.”
Goals have been up as well; Merrimack has scored three goals or more in five of their last 10 games, averaging 2.5 goals per game after that span. Through Nov. 18, Merrimack was shutout five times.
“When we’re not scoring goals, it can be a confidence killer,” Voight said. “But in skill sessions and at practice, we were working on shooting drills and drills designed to help us with scoring opportunities. Then we put that into the game and from there our confidence grew and goals started to come. We know we can do it, we’ve been able to score more lately which helps our confidence.”
Another thing that will help build confidence was Merrimack’s pair of road victories two weeks ago, when the Warriors beat No. 10 Providence, 4-1, and then went to Vermont on Sunday and picked up another road victory.
“Those were two very tough games,” Voight said. “We’ve never beaten Providence before.”
Remember, Merrimack is in just its third season of competition.
“Knowing we can knock off a team like that, they’re nationally ranked, that brings up our confidence,” Voight said. “It just proves to us that we can win these games when we focus and do what we need to do.”