DURHAM — Long-time rivals the University of New Hampshire and Dartmouth College have not played each other twice in men’s hockey in the same season in 35 years.
They play twice in the span of 24 hours this weekend.
UNH takes on Dartmouth on Friday night at Thompson Arena in Hanover at 7 p.m. The teams meet again at the Whittemore Center in Durham on Saturday night at the same time.
They are the last two games for the Wildcats before a three-week break for exams and Christmas. UNH is next back in action against Bentley at the Whittemore Center on Sunday, Dec. 30 in a 5 p.m. game
“Any time you can get a win going into break, it kind of jumpstarts the second half of the season, so that’s something we definitely want,” said UNH sophomore forward Patrick Grasso.
The annual Wildcat Toy Drive will be conducted Saturday night. Fans who bring an unwrapped toy to the game will receive a Service Credit Union t-shirt while supplies last and will also be entered to win a Wildcat hockey jersey signed by the team.
In addition, hockey historian and former UNH professor Steve Hardy will be signing copies of his new book — “Hockey: A Global History” — at the game. He will be signing books starting at 6:30 p.m., through the end of the first period.
The Wildcats broke down the half a dozen games between Thanksgiving and Christmas into their own little mini-season.
“We’re pretty happy with the effort we’ve gotten and it would be great to go into a long break with a couple of wins,” said coach Mike Souza. “But it won’t be easy.”
UNH got a tie and a win against No. 19 Miami on Thanksgiving weekend and a 1-1 tie at No. Providence last Friday. They lost 3-1 to Providence at home Saturday in a game they led in the third period but were not able to close out.
The Wildcats are 2-7-5 overall and 1-4-3 in Hockey East. Seven of their 14 games have gone to overtime.
“We all think we’re real close,” Grasso said. “We’re right there. It’s just a matter of maybe scoring a couple more goals and tightening up a little bit defensively and focusing on details.”
Souza noted his team is in for a test against Dartmouth and coach Bob Gaudet, who last week notched his 309th win to become the winningest coach in school history.
The Big Green beat No. 16 Cornell, 3-2, on Friday night and tied Colgate, 2-2 on Saturday.
They are 4-3-1 overall and 4-2-1 in the ECAC and also own wins over Harvard, 7-6, and then-No. 15 Quinnipiac, 5-1.
Junior goalie Adrian Clark had 38 saves for the win against Cornell, 20 of them in the third period.
Clark has a 2.70 goals-against average and 91.4 percent save percentage in his seven games.
Sophomore goaltender Mike Robinson, of Bedford, has started UNH’s last three games and has allowed five goals in that stretch.
He has the sixth-best goals-against average in Hockey East at 2.35 and fifth-best save percentage at .922.
“He’s your prototypical goaltender today,” Souza said. “He’s big (6-foot-4) and long and he covers a lot of net. He’s probably more technical than the casual observer would notice. He continues to get better handling the puck. I feel that he has a nice confidence to him in net this year, one I hadn’t seen prior. If the puck hits his glove, he catches it. I think that’s the sign of a confident goalie.”
Souza likes the way both Robinson and freshman goalie Ty Taylor have played and have continued to push each other to improve.
“Not that you’re looking over your shoulder, so to speak, but when you know there’s a capable person behind you, it forces you to dig in a little more,” Souza said.
The Wildcats have lost at Dartmouth in each of the last two seasons. The teams have often played in recent years at the SNHU Arena in Manchester and Saturday’s game will only be Dartmouth’s fourth time at the Whittemore Center: UNH is 2-0-1 against the Big Green in the building.
Dartmouth won the first game between the teams, 4-1, in Hanover on Feb. 12, 1936.
The Wildcats hold a 35-21-3 overall edge in the series.
UNH swept the games — 8-4 in Durham and 7-5 in Hanover — the last time the teams played twice in the same season in 1983-84.