190131-spt-unhDurham UNH Hockey_JDG6818

190131-spt-unhDurham UNH Hockey_JDG6818

This is what UNH-Maine is all about. In this 2011 photo, the Wildcats’ Paul Thompson, of Derry, celebrates with jubilant fans after scoring the game-winning goal with 15 seconds left in the third period of a Hockey East game at the Whittemore Center in Durham. Thompson, incidentally, leads the AHL Springfield Thunderbirds in points with 22 goals and 15 assists.

WHAT COMES TO THE MIND of former University of New Hampshire men’s hockey captain and current coach Mike Souza when he thinks of the Wildcats’ rivalry with Maine?

“Some heartache,” Souza said with a laugh, referring to UNH’s 3-2 overtime loss to Maine in the 1999 national championship game in Anaheim, Calif., his junior season.

Souza tied the game 3:33 into the third period but Maine’s Marcus Gustafsson netted the game and title-winning goal 10:50 into the extra frame.

“Just two great programs. A lot of history, lot of tradition, lot of mutual respect. I truly believe that,” Souza said.

Souza and the Wildcats (9-8-8, 5-5-5 Hockey East) will host Maine (9-12-3, 5-6-3) Friday and Saturday with both games starting at 7 p.m. The two bouts will be Souza’s first leading UNH against its archrival at the Whittemore Center. His first time facing Maine as UNH’s head coach came Jan. 21, when the teams skated to a 4-4 tie at Alfond Arena.

This weekend marks the 20th anniversary of the “White out the Whitt” tradition, which was also the theme for one of Souza’s favorite home games against the Black Bears: when UNH defeated them to clinch the Hockey East regular-season championship earlier in that 1998-99 national-title runner-up season.

“I would’ve forfeited the white out, I would’ve gotten swept that weekend to have beaten them two, three weeks later in Anaheim,” Souza said. “They had great players and we had great players. ... It was fun to be a part of and it’s fun to be a part of it again.”

Regardless of who is hosting when the two programs meet, UNH senior captain Marcus Vela said it is always a raucous atmosphere in the arena.

“It’s loud when we go up there,” Vela said. “They’ve got a crazy barn and the fans go nuts. It’s exciting to be a part of, especially when you’re on the opposite end of it. Sometimes you get the boos and they’re the fun boos. But here when you’re at home, our students and our fans support us and they go nuts for us just as much and it’s definitely nice to have them on our side.”

Vela has enjoyed being part of the rivalry and stated there was no chance he might have ended up on the other side of it. The San Jose Sharks prospect did not consider Maine when deciding which college to attend.

“Never talked to Maine and I like where I am,” Vela said.

It should be just as, if not more, intense than usual when Maine and the Wildcats meet this weekend considering where both sit in the Hockey East standings. UNH occupies the No. 7 spot with 41 points, just ahead of eighth-place Maine (37 points). Only eight teams will qualify for the conference tournament this season.

“They’re right there with us in the playoff race so we’re just going to focus on Friday night at this point and hopefully come out with a good showing and then go from there,” UNH sophomore defenseman Benton Maass said.

The Wildcats enter the weekend with a 7-1-3 mark over their last 11 games while Maine is 4-5-2 over the same span. The Black Bears, who are led by Berlin native and New England College alum Red Gendron, split their two-game home series with No. 2 UMass Amherst last weekend.

Wildcats junior forward Liam Blackburn is on a nation-leading 15-game point streak, during which he has recorded 21 points (nine goals, 12 assists). He leads UNH and is tied for seventh in Hockey East in scoring with a single-season career-high 24 points (10 goals, 14 assists).

Maine forward Brendan Robbins, a senior from Nashua, has logged six points (four goals, two assists) this season. The Nashua North graduate scored twice in the Black Bears’ tie with UNH earlier this month.

“Every team in our league is in a Hockey East playoff race and we’re right in the thick of it, Maine’s right in the thick of it,” Souza said. “And I expect to have two really good, competitive hockey games just like we had up at Alfond. It’s always exciting when Maine and UNH get together.”

Walsh, Harvard host Dartmouth

Reilly Walsh and No. 19 Harvard (10-6-3, 7-5-2 ECAC) will host Dartmouth (8-10-2, 7-5-1) for a 7:30 p.m. bout on Friday.

Walsh, a sophomore defenseman from Andover, has tallied 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) and is tied for ninth in the nation in power-play goals scored (six).

Avery leads Syracuse

Syracuse redshirt senior Brooke Avery had a hand in both goals for her team in a 2-1 triumph over Penn State last Friday.

Avery, a forward from Loudon, built a 2-0 Syracuse lead with her sixth goal of the season, which came with 5:34 remaining in the second period. She also had the secondary assist on teammate Jessica DiGirolamo’s first-period tally that opened the game’s scoring.

... Bowdoin College sophomore JJ Taube recorded her first collegiate point in the Polar Bears’ 3-1 victory at Wesleyan (Conn.) last Friday.

Taube, a Hanover resident and Hanover High School alumna, assisted on classmate Julia Surgenor’s goal 6:08 into the first period that opened the game’s scoring.

Surgenor, a sophomore forward from Meriden, logged a goal and an assist in the win. She has recorded four points (three goals, one assist) this season.


The NH College Hockey column runs Thursdays during the season. Alex Hall can be reached at ahall@unionleader.com.