January 4, 2014

Merrimack's Collins savors Fenway spotlight

By Andrew Merritt

Mike Collins' (Roslindale, Mass.) goal in the third period opened the scoring in Saturday's game between Merrimack and Providence College. (Photo: Merrimack Athletics)

BOSTON – One of the unexpected vagaries of the outdoor hockey trend is that it's possible for the weather to get too cold for skating on ice.

While overly warm temperatures can turn a rink of ice into a slow swamp, especially frigid temperatures make ice brittle, leading to big ruts and divots. As a result, the players in Saturday's opening Frozen Fenway game had ample opportunity to sit back and take in the surroundings while crews worked to repair the hazardous deteriorations in the surface.

That's when Mike Collins took the chance to look at a very familiar place from a very unfamiliar vantage point. Collins, who was raised in the Roslindale section of Boston, is a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan. His baseball career ended when he was 13, and with it any dream of glory on the field at Fenway Park.

Or so he thought.

Collins scored a power play goal with 12:37 to go in the third period, giving his Merrimack Warriors a one-goal lead in their first-ever trip to Fenway. Providence's Steven Shamanski scored a beauty just 2:26 later, and the Friars and Warriors finished their day on the big stage in a 1-1 deadlock.

The result doesn't count in the Hockey East standings, unlike the other league games happening at Fenway, bit the result also isn't the only reason for guys like Collins to remember their afternoon on Boston's field of dreams.

"Pretty special, I don't think it's set in yet," said Collins, whose goal gave him a share of the team lead with four this year. "I'm sure in a couple years I'll look back on this, it was a special moment."

Collins was one of five players from New England on the Merrimack bench for Saturday's game, in addition to coach Mark Dennehy, who grew up in Dorchester and graduated from Boston College in 1991. A Red Sox fan like Collins, Dennehy himself had to take a few moments to soak in the atmosphere.

"I know when the national anthem was playing, I was looking up at the facade, thinking I wouldn't have this vantage point  unless I jumped the fence," Dennehy quipped.

But once the puck dropped, Dennehy said, it was all business, and that was true for Collins as well. His 44 career goals are the most of any current Warrior, and many of them have come in big moments. So Dennehy didn't have to do anything to get Collins in the right frame of mind for the big day at Fenway.

Nor did he have to worry about Collins getting too caught up in the moment.

"I think maybe with some of the other guys, but Mike is such an even-keeled performer," Dennehy said"He doesn't get too high, doesn't get too low, which is probably why when the game's on the line and the puck's on his stick, he doesn't panic."

That was certainly true for Collins' goal. After Providence's Kevin Hart went off for interference, Collins took a feed from Brendan Ellis and walked in unmolested for a wrist shot that beat PC backup Nick Ellis on the short side.

"He's been that type of player since he got here," Dennehy said of the senior Collins. "Just really special, and you want to get him on the ice as much as possible because he's dangerous all the time."

Collins did admit to having a little extra excitement for the Fenway appearance, even if his coach didn't see any jitters.

"You kind of get up a lot more for these games than you would a normal game," Collins said"It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing, but I just try to play my game."

Collins said his big moment at Fenway Park hadn't sunken in yet after the game, and that it might take "a couple years" to fully appreciate it.

For now, he said, he just wants to set an example for his teammates.

"I try to set an example that the guys left us, guys like Chris Barton, Adam Ross, Stephane Da Costa," he said"I try to leave my mark."

On Saturday night, at least, he certainly did.

Twitter: @A_Merritt
Email: amerritt@hockeyjournal.com