After a long-awaited return, UNH men’s hockey is ready to kick-off their season with a matchup against their rival, the University of Maine. The games that were scheduled to take place in Orono, ME on Dec. 11 and 12 have been relocated to Durham in the Whittemore Center.
The Wildcats had been denied their first two weekends of games against BC and UMass due to a positive COVID-19 test on UNH’s roster. The team was scheduled to make the trip up to Maine to face-off against the longtime rival Black Bears before the venue had changed.
The Wildcats, still recovering from the positive test, were able to get back on the ice for practice but still aren’t at 100 percent.
Head coach Mike Souza explained, “Yeah we’re back on the ice, we got a couple guys back today. We’re not at full capacity but we’re pretty close.”
He continued, “It’s been something that everyone has been going through nationally, so it’s not unique to us. It’s interesting we’ve kind of gone through it twice now with the pause earlier in the fall. We knew there would be bumps in the road.”
One of those bumps in the road for UNH was how they were going to prepare for UMaine during this time of quarantine.
“We didn’t skate for fourteen days, so we had to get not only their conditioning back but also to find their hands and that sort of stuff,” Souza explained.
During this pause for UNH they were in a quarantine setting and not able to work out with strength coaches or as a team. The players would have to do those things on their own.
“The guys tried to keep themselves in as good as shape as possible. Whether that was running, biking or whatever. It’s not so much a conditioning issue for us right now,” Souza said.
He added, “There wasn’t a lot we could do team wise. My concern was about the guys being isolated from each other. We did zoom and video stuff to be able to teach these guys some things during that time.”
This will be each side’s first action of the new season but there isn’t the normal buzz about the rivalry this time around. Without fans inside the Whittemore Center, the weekend stay for the Black Bears won’t feel the same.
Souza doesn’t care who they open up against he and the team just want to get back on the ice.
“It’s always exciting to play Maine. Our guys are sick of practicing and there’s been a renewed spirit the last couple days to get back on the ice and play.”
UNH and UMaine battled it out twice last season with UMaine getting the best of UNH both times. The first being a 3-1 loss and the second being a tightly contested game that took overtime for Maine to put away UNH in a 2-1 loss.
The Black Bears finished last season with a 18-11-5 making the Hockey East playoffs. Their season was cut short, however, just before they began their quarterfinals matchup against UConn. UNH looks to bounce back against the Black Bears this weekend. Both games start at 7 p.m. ET and will be televised on NESN+.
Photo Courtesy of UNH Athletics: Captain senior forward Charlie Kelleher