Merrimack selected as the No. 4 seed in the Bridgeport regional
NORTH ANDOVER — The mission continues.
Merrimack will play Quinnipiac in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday in Bridgeport, Conn. (5:30 pm). The Warriors qualified as an at-large team following St. Cloud State’s win over Colorado College last night in the NCHC Championship. Merrimack fell in the Hockey East title game to BU in overtime.
“We thought we were the better team last night, and we still feel that way,” said Merrimack senior Mac Welsher. “We were really upset after the game, and myself and a few captains stood up and said that we knew it wasn’t over. We were checking out phones, and once we knew things would pan out how we needed them to, we were jolted with that news. It wasn’t the end.”
Merrimack officially learned its fate last night during the NCAA selection show on ESPNU. The Warriors gathered in the player lounge at Lawler Arena as a team to watch the broadcast.
“Last night after the game, we weren’t sure if we would be in the tournament, but I told the guys in the locker room that we had more hockey to play,” said Merrimack head coach Scott Borek. “I was hoping a little bit. It just would have been really sad if this group was done playing. I wouldn’t have been able to share that news with them. There’s a bigger trophy ahead of us now, and that’s how we’re looking at it.”
This marks the first time the Warriors have made the tournament since 2011. That year, the Warriors played Notre Dame in the first round. The Fighting Irish scored three unanswered goals, including Anders Lee’s overtime goal, to defeat Merrimack 4-3.
It’s only the second time Merrimack has qualified in the tournament's modern era, and it’s the third time Merrimack has qualified for the D-I tournament overall. Merrimack also made the Division I tournament in 1988 as a hybrid D-I/D-II team. The Warriors played a mixed schedule that season but were considered a D-I independent by the NCAA because they played some D-I opponents. Back then, the NCAA earmarked a bid that had to go to an independent team, which Merrimack was selected by the committee.
Merrimack has played in six NCAA Tournaments in its history and won the Division II national championship in 1978; the Warriors have never won a Division I national championship.
Merrimack’s NCAA Tournament History
1978: Defeated Lake Forest (12-2) to win the National Championship (D-II)
1980: Lost to Elmira (4-1) in the D-II National Semifinals
1982: Lost to Lowell in the (4-3) in the D-II National Semifinals
1984: Lost to Bemidji State (14-4 aggregate) in the D-II National Championship
1988: Lost to Lake Superior State (8-5) in the National Quarterfinals
2011: Lost to Notre Dame (4-3, OT) in the First Round
2023: Will play Quinnipiac in the first round on Friday, March 24
Quinnipiac is the No. 2 overall seed in the tournament (Minnesota is No. 1). The Bobcats lost in the ECAC semifinals to Colgate in overtime. Colgate went on to win the ECAC Championship, which played into Merrimack’s placement in Bridgeport. In the natural order of the bracket, Colgate would have played Quinnipiac again in the opening round. However, the NCAA men’s ice hockey committee has a mandate that prevents them from having intra-conference matchups in the first round.
Colgate would not have earned a bid if it lost last night's ECAC championship game. Alaska would have been the final at-large team and would have likely played Quinnipiac, while Merrimack would have likely played Denver in Allentown, Pa.
“I think what also helped was the support we had from our student body,” Borek said. “I think our students forced (the NCAA) to keep us in an eastern site. They saw our support at the Garden, which was impressive if you’re on that committee. I’m sure they would have loved to put us in Manchester, but with the Pairwise, it’s Bridgeport, and we’re basically playing in (Quinnipiac’s) building. So we’ll need our student body to come out again and support us at the regionals on Friday.”
Quinnipiac is 30-4-3 this season. The Bobcats’ four losses include Colgate (twice), Cornell, and Maine. Before Friday’s ECAC semifinal, the Bobcats were on a 12-game winning streak. Quinnipiac’s strength of schedule was ranked No. 44 in the nation (out of 61 teams), and Merrimack’s was ranked No. 35.
“No. 2 in the country, so they’ll be a tough out,” Borek said. “It’s a tough out but not an impossible out. And everyone in the NCAA Tournament is a tough out. I think we can win by playing several different ways, and that will help us.”
Regardless, the Warriors are thrilled to have another chance to step onto the ice.
“Knowing this is going to continue is awesome,” said defenseman Slava Demin. “This is a really special team, and it would have been hard just to pack up and end the year. It’s exciting knowing that I can go to battle with these guys more.”
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Be on the Lookout: This week TMR and The Eagle Tribune will run several features stories on the Merrimack men’s hockey team. Those stories will include the impact of the seniors and transfers, Bill Burt will have a feature on Merrimack captain Ben Brar, and Mike McMahon will have a feature on Merrimack’s goalie tandem of Zachary Borgiel and Hugo Ollas.