In this January 2019 photo, the University of Maine’s Jacob Schmidt-Svejstrup (right) battles for the puck with New Hampshire's Brendan Van Riemsdyk. Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

One of college hockey’s biggest rivalries will be reignited this weekend. 

The University of New Hampshire invades Alfond Arena for a pair of Hockey East games on Friday and Saturday nights at 7 p.m. 

The two archrivals used to be among college hockey’s elite. Now, fourth-year UNH head coach Mike Souza and first-year UMaine boss Ben Barr are trying to rebuild their respective programs into NCAA Tournament contenders.

UNH once had a run of 11 NCAA tournament appearances in 12 years ending with its last appearance in 2012-13. The Wildcats haven’t had a winning season since they went 22-18-1 in 2013-14.

UMaine won two NCAA titles and appeared in 11 Frozen Fours between the 1987-88 and 2006-07 seasons and had a total of 18 NCAA tournament appearances. UMaine hasn’t qualified for the NCAA tournament or even reached the Hockey East semifinals since the 2011-12 campaign.

The rivalry reached its peak in 1999, when the two schools met in the NCAA championship game in Anaheim, California. UMaine beat UNH 3-2 in overtime on Marcus Gustafsson’s goal.

Souza played on that UNH team and the UMaine goalie was Alfie Michaud, the Black Bears’ current assistant coach and goalie coach.

UMaine enters the game 5-17-4 overall, 3-13-2 in Hockey East. UNH is currently 13-14-1 and 7-11-1. 

UMaine holds a 69-61-11 edge in the series.

The two teams met three times last season and UNH was 2-0-1, including a 7-2 thrashing of the Black Bears in the playoffs at Alfond Arena in Orono. It was UMaine’s only home game of the season due to COVID-19 restrictions that forced the Black Bears to play all of their 15 regular season games on the road.

For some players, this is the first game they’ve played against UNH with fans. UMaine sophomore winger and leading goal scorer Donovan Villeneuve-Houle is looking forward to the series and the electric atmosphere with fans.

“I’m pretty excited. I saw it on my [recruiting] visit. The intensity of the crowd is pretty amazing,” said Houle, who has 10 goals to go with three assists.

“It’s going to be a fun atmosphere,” Barr said. “I’m looking forward to playing in front of the best fans in college hockey.”

Barr said UNH’s record isn’t indicative of how good they are.

“They have speed and skill, they play hard, they are extremely well-coached, they block a lot of shots and they transition well,” Barr said. “We’re going to have to finish our checks, slow them down, play with real good structure and play above the puck.”

The teams are two of the lowest scoring among the 59 in Division I as UNH is 53rd (2.11 goals per game) and UMaine is 54th (1.96 gpg). They are two of the least penalized as UMaine is the least penalized (7.28 penalty minutes per game) and UNH is 47th (9.71).

UNH does have the nation’s seventh best penalty-killing percentage (87.6 percent).

UMaine has been led by the line of Lynden Breen (5 goals, 11 assists) between Houle and Ben Poisson (5 & 5) along with the defense tandem of Jakub Sirota (4 & 10) and David Breazeale (2 & 11) and goalie Victor Ostman (4-11-1, 3.14 goals-against average, .901 save percentage).

Sirota is questionable due to a knee injury. 

UNH features Jackson Pierson (11 & 9), Tyler Ward (5 & 12), Colton Huard (5 & 10), Liam Devlin (8 & 5) and goalie Mike Robinson (11-10-0, 2.25, .917), a three-time Hockey East Goaltender of the Week this season including last week.