UNH vs. Maine: The history of a rivalry
Published: Friday, February 4, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 15:02
This weekend, two Hockey East teams will play two games, in what many consider the hockey ‘showdown of the year.' UNH hockey fans will have their faces painted white and make the Whittemore Center echo with screams and shouts taunting the opposing team. They will be wearing white jerseys, or the special T-shirts designed exclusively for this series.
The whole week leading up to the game, these fans were busy with preparation. Signs taunting the University of Maine Black Bears were crafted, nicknames and chants were cleverly constructed, and hundreds of students waited in line outside the arena Monday morning for tickets, which sold out in just 30 minutes.
If you ask any player or fan from Maine or UNH, what they look forward to most from the hockey schedule, all they want is to beat the rival team. The tension has built up so much over the years; it has even spilled over to other sports. Any game between the Wildcats and Black Bears at both the Alfond Arena and the Whittemore Center is always sold out, but how did this interstate New England rivalry come to be?
"Before I even came to Maine, I was introduced to the rivalry," Tanner House, a senior forward and captain for the Black Bears, said. "I was at the gym with Matt Fonataro, a former UNH hockey player. I remember telling him I was going to be playing for Maine. His response was just ‘we hate those guys.'"
Although Maine and UNH hockey have had tension for decades, there was a specific time in history where fingers can be pointed as to why the rivalry is as fierce as it is today.
At the end of the 1999 season, a two-game series at the Whittemore Center got fans and players more fired up than ever, as the Hockey East regular season championship was on the line. March 5 and 6 were the first "White Out the Whit" games, a promotion by the athletic department that encouraged fans to wear white to the games. UNH needed to win both contests to win its first outright league title.
People waited in line for three hours just for standing room-only tickets. In the first game, UNH shut down the Black Bears in a 6-1 win. The following night, the stakes were high in the winner-take-all regular season finale. Jason Krog, the nation's leading scorer, tallied back-to back goals to lead UNH to a 4-1 victory and its first-ever outright Hockey East regular season championship.
Lincoln Kenney, a long-time Maine hockey fan that now resides in N.H., recalls that final regular season game.
"The Whit was crazy, it was louder than I have ever heard it there," Kenney said. "Everyone was running their mouth and jawing at me after that. Ever since then, the battle has been on."
UNH head coach Dick Umile was thoroughly impressed with his team that night.
"That was an unbelievable win," Umile said. "We had to get three out of four points that weekend and we did."
A month later, on April 3, 1999, UNH played in its first-ever national championship game against Maine at Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim. The Black Bears skated to a 2-0 lead, but a UNH shorthanded goal cut the lead to one and Mike Souza scored early in the third to tie the game. Neither team could get the game winner, however, and the two teams skated into overtime.
UNH had its chances to win the game, but Maine netted a goal 10:50 in to take home the national championship.
Before the '99 drama, however, the rivalry had already been in place. The two teams have been playing each other since 1979, when Maine made the jump from
Division II to Division I.
Kevin Gray, who attended UNH from '89 – '93, and was the sports editor for TNH at that time, remembers the intensity at the games.
"During my time at UNH, Maine was a natural rival because it was Hockey East's best team, had the best players and an arrogant and terrific coach named Shawn Walsh," Gray said. "Some UNH fans were skeptical of Maine's recruiting practices and thought the Black Bears were cheating. Our students simply hated Maine."
The hatred has built up over the years with instigation from the fans and media too. Gray remembers at one Maine game, UNH students brought newspapers to the rink and pretended to read them while the Maine line-up was being introduced.
Kennedy saw an interesting display of hostility coming from Maine students at the Alfond Arena a few years back.
"Anyone who came into the arena wearing a UNH jersey—well, let's just say I saw a lot of snowball throwing happening," Kennedy said.
Since the 21st century began, UNH and Maine have been on relatively even playing fields, which continuously sparks the rivalry. In 2002, UNH won its first ever Hockey East tournament, with a victory over Maine.
Over the years, Maine has won two National titles, made 11 Frozen Four appearances, 17 NCAA tournament appearances, and five Hockey East championships. UNH has made seven Frozen Four appearances, 20 NCAA appearances, two Hockey East championships, but has yet to win a National Championship.
"The fans rub off on you," House said. "There's not a lot of love between the two teams. I know the guys try extra hard to finish the check to hurt them and they do the same to us."
"Everything is picked up a notch; the pace, the physical play," Umile said. "There's respect for the programs, but it's [competition], it's intense."
Many fans have been waiting months for this game, and the anticipation has been no different for the players.
"As soon as the schedule comes out, we look for that White Out game," UNH senior defenseman Matt Campanale said. "It's a great game for the fans and for us."
As UNH looks to impress the home crowd, Maine hopes to pull an upset or two.
"There's no one we'd rather play, or beat, than UNH," House said.