Maine vs. UNH hockey features rich tradition

Posted Dec. 07, 2010, at 5:58 p.m.
Last modified Dec. 07, 2010, at 6:15 p.m.

It was April 3, 1999.

Two of the easternmost teams in Division I college hockey met for the NCAA championship in, of all places, Anaheim, Calif.

They were also neighbors and longtime rivals in every sport.

The University of Maine wound up beating the University of New Hampshire 3-2 in overtime in a memorable title game.

Marcus Gustafsson decided it by sweeping home his own rebound off a cross-ice pass from Cory Larose.

The goaltending duel was a gem.

Maine’s Alfie Michaud, the NCAA Tournament’s Most Valuable Player, finished with 46 saves including 25 Grade-A (high-percentage) stops. Ty Conklin had 14 Grade-A’s among his 36.

Maine had a goal disallowed due to a skate in the crease — that occurred again to Maine in a national final five years later but that time it proved to be costly as Denver beat Maine 1-0 — and that enabled UNH to rally from a 2-0 deficit to tie it. Had the goal by current Maine assistant Dan Kerluke been allowed, it would have given Maine a 3-0 lead.

That was Maine’s last NCAA championship.

Maine gained the ultimate measure of revenge after UNH had swept the Black Bears 6-1 and 4-1 at the Whittemore Center to sew up the Hockey East regular season title.

The rivalry will be renewed again at Alfond Arena on Friday night at 7:30.

It has evolved into one of college hockey’s most heated rivalries.

And both teams are among four Hockey East teams ranked in the nation’s top eight.

UNH is third, Maine is eighth. Boston College (fourth) and Boston University (seventh) are the others.

There have been lots of unforgettable moments in the rivalry.

On Feb. 2, 2002, UNH goalie Michael Ayers made 33 saves in a 2-2 tie at Alfond Arena, one night after he suffered a torn tendon in his left arm when teammate and roommate Nick Mounsey skated over it. Ayers was treated at Bangor’s Eastern Maine Medical Center where he asked if he could play the next night. He was told he couldn’t damage the arm any more so he put on a protective brace and played brilliantly through the pain.

They have met only twice in the NCAA Tournament. The teams played in the Frozen Four semifinals in the Xcel Energy Center (Minn.) two months later and Maine shocked the Wildcats 7-2.

Maine won the first game between the two schools on Dec. 15, 1979, 5-3. Current New York Rangers coach John Tortorella had the game-winner.

Two years later, UNH began a stretch of seven straight wins over Maine.

Maine had a nine-game winning skein from 1986-88.

The two rinks are markedly different with the Whittemore Center being an Olympic-sized sheet (200 feet by 100 feet) while Alfond Arena has more traditional North American rink dimensions (200-by-85).

The fans are equally loud and rabid.

UNH has never won a national championship and is 12-16 in NCAA Tournament play since Hockey East’s inception in 1984-85 while Maine is 30-19. Maine fans will remind them about it.

Maine hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since the 2006-2007 season and UNH fans will taunt them about that when they visit Durham for a two-game set on Feb. 4-5.

UNH is well on its way to a 10th straight NCAA Tournament appearance.

The coaches are as different as the rinks.

UNH’s Dick Umile is animated and vocal. Maine’s Tim Whitehead is more reserved and introspective. He is subtly intense.

Five of the last 10 meetings have been decided by one goal. It should be another dandy.

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