New Hampshire and Maine have squared off in some pretty meaningful games. The Black Bears topped the Wildcats for the 1999 NCAA Championship in Anaheim as well as in the 2002 NCAA semifinal in St. Paul. This Friday and Saturday the two schools will renew acquaintances in a nonconference series at neutral sites within their respective states.
The Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester will host on Friday night before the series shifts to the Cross Insurance Center in Portland on Saturday. The two games have far less national significance than many of the previous matchups between the two schools, but for each team, these two games present an opportunity for a springboard into a more successful second half.
The two teams are a combined 7-21-2 this season which is certainly not something this rivalry is accustomed to. This will be the last games of the first half for both teams so a couple wins for either could go a long way into building momentum for a stronger second semester.
The two teams have other similarities besides the struggling records. Both teams have relied on freshman goaltenders after their starters moved on for different reasons. Maine's Sean Romeo has seemingly taken over the top spot in the Black Bear crease. The Youngstown Phantoms product 3.17 goals against average and a .902 save percentage, but he has faced a barrage of shots. Adam Clark was thrown into the starting duties at UNH after the unexpected departure of senior Casey DeSmith. Clark has a 2.54 GAA and a .905 save percentage.
Each team has some upperclassmen that were expected to lead the way in scoring, but instead sophomores have stepped up for each team. Cam Brown leads the Black Bears in scoring with five goals and seven assists while classmate Blaine Byron has five goals and five assists. Tyler Kelleher had 16 points as a rookie and already has 10 this year with five goals.
Both teams have been prone to making mistakes defensively. This series should come down to which team can capitalize more on the other team's defensive lapses.
Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxSports.