Familiarity Breeds Contempt
Aesop must have been a sports fan. Sports is where that observation rings so true. How else can you explain how Maine and Massachusetts, two teams that have essentially ignored each other for years, despite being in the same conference, can suddenly grow into a rivalry this season?
It started innocently enough. Maine went on an 8-0-1 tear to start the season and during that run, UMass was an inconsequential victim. The Black Bears beat the Minutemen, 4-1, to go 6-0.
Fast forward to the end of the season, and Maine has performed just the opposite. The Black Bears entered the last two games of the season in Amherst, tied with UMass for fourth place and the last home ice spot. UMass swept them, 3-1 and 5-3.
That meant that these two teams would play again the next week in the Hockey East quarterfinals right back at the Mullins Center. UMass just kept rolling, sweeping Maine again, 3-2 and 5-2.
It seemed as if the paths of these two teams were heading in opposite directions. UMass headed into the NCAA tournament winning six in a row and going 7-1-1 in its last nine. Maine had lost four in a row and six out of eight.
They got another chance to become familiar with each other as they were both placed in the East Regional and the rivalry ratcheted up a bit when, despite the way the two teams ended the season both overall and against each other, Maine was given the No. 3 seed while UMass was handed the No.4 seed.
Thanks to both winning their first round games, they got another chance to settle the score. There have been two significant meetings between these teams prior to this year (UMass swept Maine in the 2003 Hockey East Quarterfinals, and the following year, Maine beat UMass in the Hockey East finals in a triple-overtime thriller, 2-1). However, this matchup in the NCAA playoffs topped them all.
Maine goalie Ben Bishop said after his team defeated St. Cloud State, “They’ve had our number the last four games. They beat us all four. When they won tonight, it really boosted us up. We really want to play them. Now we have a chance to do that.”
After defeating Clarkson, UMass captain Matt Anderson was very coy in answering how he felt about possibly playing Maine. He gave all the politically correct responses not wanting to provide locker room fodder for his opponents. However, reading between the lines, it was evident the Minutemen wanted one more shot at their new rivals.
Play they did for the right to go to St. Louis. With Ben Bishop healthy and back in net for Maine, the Black Bears clawed past the Minutemen, 3-1.
“I think its a very natural rivalry,” Maine coach Tim Whitehead said. “Obviously, we have a serious rivalry with UNH. That’s the most natural rivalry for us. But, UMass definitely has very quickly become very good rivals.”
“There’s no question we’ve played in some pretty big games [against Maine] dating back about four years now,” UMass coach Don Cahoon said. “That’s grown as you hope it would, which means you’re playing big games [at the end of the year].”
This new rivalry may very likely spill over into next year and years to come. Aesop would be proud.