When you think of college hockey in the Northeast, you may think of a few different teams: the “Battle of Commonwealth Avenue” between Boston University and Boston College, or maybe the Beanpot Tournament which features both teams along with Harvard and Northeastern University. But if you are from the Durham area, you most certainly know the rivalry between Maine and UNH.
In one of the oldest rivalries in UNH hockey history, it was the new breed of Wildcats that ran wild on the Black Bears this weekend. UNH swept Maine in a two-game, home-and-home series. In the annual “White Out the Whitt” game, the ‘Cats squashed Maine in a 5-1 rout. The following night in another packed house at Alfond Arena in Orono, UNH escaped with a 4-3 victory.
Freshmen standouts of the weekend included Brendan van Riemsdyk with a goal on Friday and Liam Blackburn with two goals on Saturday. Junior Jason Salvaggio also potted a goal in Friday’s win. The Wildcats now extend their undefeated streak against Maine to five games, dating back to 2015. It was the second consecutive home victory against the Black Bears.
“You can forget the records when you play this game, the white out, the fans were great tonight,” head coach Dick Umile said regarding the atmosphere at the Whittemore Center. “It just makes it a great hockey atmosphere to play [in] and it’s UNH-Maine.”
The weekend sweep improves UNH’s Hockey East record to 5-1-1, which is good for second place in conference standings. Defenseman Cameron Marks knows that in a conference as competitive as Hockey East, wins in conference are always a big deal.
“Obviously Hockey East [games] are big games and whenever we play a Hockey East game we are always prepared and we showed it today,” Marks said.
In front of a sellout crowd on Friday night, the ‘Cats found themselves trailing first. The Black Bears took advantage of a powerplay and Mitchell Fossier slipped one past Danny Tirone to give Maine a 1-0 lead going into the first intermission.
That would be the end of the Black Bears’ night offensively, as UNH went on to score four unanswered goals to hand Maine its eighth loss of the season. Tyler Kelleher netted the game-winner at 14:54 on the power play to give UNH a 2-1 lead. The goal itself was a nifty inside-move score on Rob McGovern, and as Umile simply put it, “you don’t teach that, the goal he scored. I looked at Mike [Souza] and he looked at me and said ‘huh, you don’t teach that’.”
Van Riemsdyk, Salvaggio and Cameron Marks added to the Wildcat goal total resulting in the 5-1 win. UNH remained steadily consistent on the powerplay going 2-5 overall. Tirone posted 23 saves in the winning effort.
The following night, in enemy territory, the Wildcat power play proved to be the deciding factor in a closer contest, a 4-3 win. UNH scored three of its four goals on the powerplay, two of which came from Blackburn’s stick. Kelleher once again found the back of the net to give the Wildcats a two-goal edge 4-2 which secured the rivalry weekend sweep of Maine.
“The powerplay worked well and it was a game. They battled back and Tirone stopped them from getting back into the game. Some crazy situations that ended the game,” Umile said. The win improves the Wildcats to 8-6-2 overall on the season.
Its hard to deny the overall magnitude of what this weekend brings to both sides of the rivalry. UNH’s perfomance over the weekend proves they have the upper hand over the Black Bears for now, but Umile expresses gratitude about the level of play both teams bring, and how the rivalry is still rich today.
“We both have been a little quiet here the past couple of years and you just look at the atmosphere and the level of hockey that is played out there, it’s tremendous.” Umile said. “You just don’t get better atmospheres than [Friday at UNH] and [Saturday at Maine].”
The ‘Cats will say goodbye to the Whittemore Center for a while, as they will travel up the Granite State to meet Dartmouth this Saturday, Dec. 10 then begin a non-conference neutral-site series with Maine starting Dec. 30 at SNHU arena in Manchester.