There was a time when the Maine-New Hampshire rivalry was the best in college hockey. The penultimate game between the two schools was played in 1999 in Anaheim. It was for the national championship. Marcus Gustafsson banged home a rebound to give the Black Bears their second NCAA Championship under the legendary Shawn Walsh.
The two teams met in the Frozen Four again in 2002 -- and Maine once again came out on top, winning 7-2 in the national semifinal.
When the two teams meet this weekend there will be little fanfare around college hockey. First year head coach Red Gendron is trying to re-establish Maine as a national power while New Hampshire is struggling to stay above the 500 mark.
But one thing is for certain. The Whittemore Center and the Alfond Arena will be rocking this weekend as the two fan bases have a certain distain for the other.
Each team has injury concerns heading into the weekend. New Hampshire lost star defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk for the rest of the regular season and second line center Grayson Downing for up to a month last Saturday night against Union.
Maine is having to deal some banged up players as well. Sophomore forward Steven Swavely suffered a knee injury in his team's game at Fenway Park against BU while freshman Blaine Byron just returned to the lineup. Stu Higgins suffered an apparent leg injury in the team's exhibition game against New Brunswick on Tuesday night.
Maine has the edge in top end talent with star forward Devin Shore, arguably the best two-way player in the nation, defenseman Ben Hutton and goaltender Martin Ouellette.
New Hampshire has the edge in depth, but that depth certainly took a hit with recent injuries. Senior Kevin Goumas and freshman Tyler Kelleher are the Wildcats most flashy players offensively. Another Wildcat to keep an eye on is senior Nick Sorkin who scored just 14 goals in his first three seasons in Durham. He has 13 already this year.
The two teams split their three-game regular season series evenly last season. UNH won, 4-0, in Orono before Maine ruined the Wildcats chances of home ice on the last weekend of the regular season. The Black Bears won, 4-3, and tied, 4-4, the next night.
Both games can be seen nationally on Fox College Sports. Friday's game at the Whittemore Center starts at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday's puck drop at Alfond Arena is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Around the league:
UMass-Lowell and Providence square off in a home-and-home series that should be the marquee games of the weekend in Hockey East. Two of the top teams in the league and retribution will be on the minds of the Friars players. UMass Lowell took home the Hockey East Championship trophy on the last night of the season in Providence and then ended the Friars season two weekends later at the Hockey East semifinals.
Merrimack and UMass battle in a home-and-home series between the two teams at the bottom of the league standings, but each squad has proven to be better than their record has shown at times this season. Merrimack has the edge in goal and on the blue line, but UMass has more offensive weapons.
Northeastern heads to South Bend to take on a Notre Dame team it already beat earlier in the season at the Shillelagh Tournament. The Fighting Irish got some bad news this week when it learned top offensive defenseman Robbie Russo would be done for the season due to academic issues. It should be interesting to see how Clay Witt bounces back from a rough outing against UVM last Saturday.
Boston University hosts Vermont in an intriguing weekend series at Agganis Arena. The Terriers, plagued by injuries, lack of depth and an inability to come together as a team, will look to right the ship against a pesky Catamounts squad looking for key conference points.
Boston College, unbeaten in 10 straight, play a single game at Terry Pegula Ice Arena in State College, Pa. against Penn State on Saturday night. The Eagles, with an overwhelming talent advantage over Guy Gadowsky's team, defeated PSU, 8-2, in the championship game of the Three Rivers Classic back in December.
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