UNH Men’s Hockey: Wildcats Grab Four of Six Points Against Rival Maine Black Bears


Evan Mullings, Sports Writer

It’s not just one of the best rivalries in Hockey East but also one of the best in all of collegiate sports. The University of Maine Black Bears (13-13-5, 7-9-4) visited the Whittemore Center to battle the University of New Hampshire (UNH) Wildcats (11-18-3, 6-13-3) for the first time since February 3, 2019. To understand the intense rivalry of the border battle, all you’d have to do is walk around Durham with a Black Bears jersey on. The UNH community celebrates the series with “White Out the Whitt” where all fans are strongly encouraged to wear white to create a hostile environment that is difficult for UMaine to play in.

On Friday night, a full hour before puck drop, the student section was already beginning to fill in. Whittemore Center staff were handing out shirts that read “White Out the Whitt 2023” to the first 2,500 fans to enter. The pent-up energy and buzz during the pregame was thunderous.

Coming into the biggest series of the season, the Wildcats were rolling. They had won seven of nine games including four consecutive wins against Merrimack, UMass Lowell, and two to UConn. All three of those schools rank in the NCAA Top-20 D1 college hockey teams.

The Maine Black Bears were also on a nice run of their own. They had gone 4-1-1 in their last six with wins against Boston College, Merrimack, and two against the Providence Friars. Star forward Lyndon Breen came into the weekend on fire, posting goals in seven consecutive games. With both teams in the fight still for a home playoff game, this two-game set posed a crucial six points.

The ‘Cats were a bit slow out of the gates on Friday night. UMaine set the tone and tempo early outshooting UNH 10-2 in the first period as Nolan Renwick was the first player to cash in. With just 0:04 remaining in the first UMaine powerplay,  the second-line center was able to knock in a rebound-out front of David Fessenden to make it 1-0 at 18:11 of the first. Scoring first as the road team in a hostile environment is crucial as the Whittemore Center was silenced with UNH trailing after the first twenty.

Last Saturday against UConn, UNH faced a similar test after allowing the first goal. It was a physical brand of hockey engineered by Cam Gendron, Conor Lovett, and Connor Sweeney then that turned the momentum tide. That’s exactly what happened again on Friday and eventually, the ‘Cats broke even.

Ryan Black made a beautiful feed from the near wall to Kristaps Skrastins in the slot and as he pulled the puck left, the right-handed shooter went back against the grain top shelf past Victor Ostman. The building erupted as the goal marked the first White Out the Whitt goal in over four years.

Nothing would transpire for either team in the second period. That changed at 13:02 of the third as Didrik Henbrandt parked himself right in front of David Fessenden and put home a bouncing puck to the back of the net. He was able to shake off a backcheck from Damien Carfagna after the Black Bears had the puck in the offensive zone for over a minute and a half. With that said, you don’t sell out the Whittemore Center on the first White Out the Whitt game in four years just to lose to UMaine 2-1. Queue the captain.

At 17:51 of the third period, Damien Carfagna got a point shot through traffic and Chase Stevenson parked to the right of Ostman, was able to get a piece of it to tie the game up 2-2. Stevenson filled with jubilation threw his arms up right in front of the student section in what was arguably his biggest goal of his college career.

After the game he gave a lot of credit to the fans, “It was my first game with this big of a crowd and they were loud all night. I thought our first period wasn’t great but they kind of kept us in it… obviously a really emotional goal for me.”

OT went scoreless bringing on a shootout in which Coach Mike Souza chose Stiven Sardarian as the first UNH shooter. Sardarian took one of the slowest approaches you’d ever see and made a flurry of stick handles before beating Ostman far side. Sardarian embraced the moment and acknowledged the crowd in his skate back to the bench. With UMaine needing a goal in the third round, Lydon Breen missed the net completely clinching the Wildcats a huge two points in a game where it looked like they may not get any.

Saturday night’s ‘Senior Night’ game was a textbook defensive battle. UNH tapped freshman goaltender Tyler Muszelik to make his first career start against Maine while the Black Bears had Victor Ostman start for them once again. Both goaltenders were outstanding as the two teams were deadlocked 0-0 after a full three periods of play. It was either going to be Victor Ostman’s sixth shutout of the season or the first of Tyler Muszelik’s career.

Chase Stevenson came up huge for the Wildcats once again, this time in the second round of the shootout while Muszelik held the Black Bears to without a goal in all three rounds. UNH clinched another ‘win’ and four of six points against their biggest rival.

Muszelik spoke about his rising confidence over the last few weeks, “I’ve had a few strong games in a row which has been great. I’m feeling good going into the best time of the year which I think is really important.”

The Wildcats have just two games remaining this season. The first comes against #16 UConn in Mansfield this Saturday followed by a date with the Catamounts the Thursday after to close it out. The prospect of a home playoff game will be difficult to achieve as Boston College and Maine are ahead of the Wildcats by four and three points respectively with two games in hand. Going on the road to either site looks like the most likely first-round scenario on Wednesday, March 8th for UNH.

Photo Courtesy of UNH Athletics