The heart of 'Mission Merrimack' continues beating
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BOSTON — When Scott Borek was hired as Merrimack's head coach almost five years ago, he emblazoned two words everywhere.
The phrase was on shirts. It was on the program's letterhead, and it was painted on the walls inside the locker room.
What was the mission? It was simple.
"We want to do something that changes the world for this program," said forward Matt Copponi, who had the OT game-winner in Friday's semifinal.
Saturday night at TD Garden in Boston, Merrimack came within reach of accomplishing the mission. But, the Warriors fell to Boston University, 2-1, in overtime of the Hockey East championship game. Luckily for Merrimack, it will get another crack at a "mission accomplished" next weekend in the NCAA Tournament. The Warriors still earned an NCAA berth thanks to St. Cloud's win over Colorado College in the NCHC championship.
Jordan Seyfert has captained that mission from the start. He hasn't always worn a letter on his shirt, but he has been the heart and soul of the Merrimack program since he arrived on campus the same season as Borek in 2018.
For Seyfert, like Merrimack, it hasn't always been easy.
Early in the 2019-20 season, Seyfert suffered a broken ankle during practice, ending his season; he appeared in just 16 games. To make matters even worse, he broke his ankle on the first practice after he was promoted to Merrimack's top line.
After he spent the summer rehabbing during COVID, he returned for the 2020-21 season. Remember that one? It was played in empty buildings without fans.
But just two practices into the season, he tore his labrum. That injury put him on the shelf for the entire 2020-21 season. He never appeared in a game.
No one outside the Merrimack locker room knew then, but his injuries were practically the last thing on his mind.
In November 2020, shortly after his labrum tear, Seyfert's father, Jeffrey, was diagnosed with Stage 5 kidney failure, and he needed a transplant.
"I'm young, and I haven't met someone who has been through the adversity that he has been through," Copponi said. "He's been to hell and back and I'm so proud to be his teammate. He's a great friend. He's the leader. He pushes the bus. Our leadership, from all of those guys, is the reason we're here."
Almost a year to the day — Nov. 12, 2021 — Seyfert was on the ice at Alfond Arena in Maine. It was his fourth game back after missing almost two full years due to a pair of injuries. His phone wouldn't stop ringing when he walked to the Merrimack team bus. The Warriors lost that game in overtime to the Black Bears, blowing a two-goal lead.
When he finally answered the nonstop calls, he got the news. His dad was getting a live donor.
"It was like two cinder blocks were sitting on my chest, and someone lifted them off," he said. "It was such a relief."
During that time, Seyfert leaned on many people around the Merrimack program. He leaned on his teammates, and he relied on his coach.
"I love that guy," Seyfert said of Borek. "I went through a lot with my injuries and with my dad. My family was really struggling my junior year and to be able to come out on top of it all, and to have a great friend like (Borek) help me through it, it's truly special. I look at him as a second dad, I really do. He takes care of his players. A lot of guys say they want wants best for their players, but he means it. I can't say enough about him. I love him.
"He is a fighter pilot. He loves his players. It doesn't matter if you're in the stands or if you're playing 25 minutes a night. He cares about every single guy and has relationships with them. He gives everyone a chance and he's honest with his players. He's helped me through so much on and off the ice. Relationships go a long way. That's what is making our team so successful.”
This past fall, the roles reversed.
Merrimack assistant coach Josh Ciocco died less than a week before this season was set to begin. That week was a blur for everyone. As the days turned into months, the Warriors were in the midst of one of their best starts in the program's Hockey East history.
There was an undeniable void left in Borek's life when Ciocco passed. Right before the Warriors went on Christmas break, he said he was looking forward to the time off because the Warriors had been through so much in the first half, despite a 13-4 record.
As much as Seyfert leaned on Borek when he needed it most, the coach leaned on the player when he needed it most. It's a two-way street.
"Jordan and I have been through a lot," Borek said. "When I coached at UNH, Josh and I were friends. He was a sophomore and I was an older coach, but we became really close friends. You don't develop relationships like that all the time between a coach and a player. Josh was a son to me. Jordan is the same. It's unbelievable how he has filled those shoes in my life. I'm not even sure if he realizes what it means to me. To see him have the success he has had means everything to him, and it means more to the people around him."
"It gives me chills to hear that," Seyfert said.
The Warriors still have work to do.
"I've coached a lot of teams over a lot of years, and I've never coached a team like this one," Borek said. "I'm so proud to be their coach.
"They don't want this to be the end. This group does not want to separate. They're that close. They want to keep on playing."
They'll get that chance.
The mission continues.