The University of Maine Black Bears and Boston University Terriers will square off in a two-game series at the Alfond Arena this weekend.
Boston University will enter the series as the nation’s top-ranked team. The Terriers are coming off yet another Beanpot Tournament championship by virtue of Monday night’s 5-2 win over Northeastern.
The Maine-BU rivalry is still a good one, although it isn’t as intense as it was when BU coach Jack Parker and the late Shawn Walsh were at odds.
Certain games can elevate a rivalry and that occurred in 1995 when BU beat Maine 6-2 in the NCAA championship game in Providence, R.I.
Maine’s 3-2 overtime win over New Hampshire in the 1999 NCAA title game certainly took the Border War rivalry to a new plateau.
Still, Maine and BU are the two programs that carried the Hockey East banner during the league’s early years and have been NCAA contenders most years.
They put Hockey East on the map and New Hampshire and Boston College have since joined the ranks of the elite.
The league is celebrating its 25th anniversary this season.
It began out of necessity when the Ivy League schools in the ECAC decided to form their own league and took some of the non-Ivies with them.
The Ivy League athletic directors and presidents felt they were at a disadvantage because they couldn’t offer athletic scholarships.
So the athletic directors at BU, BC, New Hampshire, Northeastern and Providence decided to form their own league and then invited UMass Lowell and Maine to join them, which they did.
The league made one of its best decisions to hire Providence Athletic Director Lou Lamoriello as its first commissioner, and Lamoriello insisted on the league conducting itself as a first-class operation.
He hired the best referees and paid them more than any other league, he reached a three-year agreement with New England Sports Network and WSBK-TV in Boston to televise games and provide important regional exposure, and he helped set up a scheduling agreement between the league and the nation’s best conference: the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
Games between Hockey East and WCHA teams counted in the league standings.
The Hockey East-WCHA agreement was one of the most innovative in NCAA history.
Both leagues benefited significantly, as did their fans, who got a chance to see some of the best players in the country and gain a familiarity with programs half a continent away.
And there were some classic games.
The league has since added Merrimack, Massachusetts and Vermont. All have been valuable additions.
Hockey East fans have had the pleasure of watching six Hobey Baker Award winners: Maine’s Scott Pellerin and Paul Kariya, BC’s David Emma and Mike Mottau, BU’s Chris Drury and UNH’s Jason Krog.
There have been five NCAA titles with Maine and BC winning two apiece and BU claiming one, and 33 teams have reached the Frozen Four.
In fact, at least two Hockey East teams have reached the Frozen Four in 12 seasons, which is seven more than the WCHA and CCHA.
The ECAC Hockey League has never had two since the inception of Hockey East.
So we owe a debt of thanks to those Ivy League administrators whose snub paved the way for Hockey East.
Hockey East is as strong as ever and the gap between the elite and second-tier teams has closed significantly.