By Mike McMahon
NORTH ANDOVER — Six years can feel like an eternity. Just ask Merrimack College.
The Warriors haven't made the Hockey East playoffs since the 2003-04 season. Jim Healey, the team's current goalie coach, was a freshman on that team, backstopping his way to a spot on the All-Hockey East Rookie Team.
It seems like ages ago.
But entering the final three weeks of the regular season, including this weekend's home-and-home set with UMass Amherst, the Warriors find themselves in the midst of a playoff push.
Merrimack sits just two points behind Vermont for the final playoff spot, but have a game in hand on the Catamounts and own the tie breaker, having won the season series 2-0-1 after a win and a tie last weekend.
The good news is that, of their last seven, four come at home, where the Warriors can boast a sparkling 10-2 record on the season.
"Every game for us is a playoff game now," said winger Jesse Todd.
Ironically, the Warriors split their season into a series of seven-game segments, mimicking an NHL playoff series. The reasoning, head coach Mark Dennehy says, is that if you win all those series, you're in a great position come playoff time.
Things started well for Merrimack, which won six of its first nine games, before dropping seven straight mid-season. But, the Warriors are 4-2-1 in their last seven games — with wins over UMass Lowell, Vermont, New Hampshire and Providence — and one of those two regulation losses came with 11.1 seconds left in overtime to first-place New Hampshire. Four wins in their last seven games should be enough to get the Warriors into the postseason.
"We can only control what we can control," Dennehy said. "We can't worry about what other teams are doing, because if we go out and win games, it doesn't matter what those teams are doing."
After this weekend's slate with the Minutemen, the Warriors will travel to Boston College on Tuesday to play the game in hand they hold on Vermont. Then, each team will have four regular season games remaining. The Catamounts, who dismissed second leading scorer Justin Milo (9-12-21) this week for undisclosed reasons, travel to UNH for two games at the Whittemore Center.WEEKEND SERIES
The teams: Merrimack (11-15-1, 8-11-1 HE) vs. UMass Amherst (16-13-0, 11-11-0 HE)
Today: at Merrimack, 7 p.m.
Tomorrow: at UMass, 7:30 p.m.