Take any treasured Original Six rivalry in the NHL and you will have the requisite foundation to understand what the matchup between the University of New Hampshire and Providence College means to the world of women’s hockey.
Incidentally, the Friars and Wildcats constitute an Original Six card of their own. They are two of the founding programs of the Women’s Hockey East Association, which started with six tenants in 2002-03.
This Saturday, the two programs will intersect in a WHEA playoff game for the sixth time in the league’s 11 years of existence, engaging in a quarterfinal on UNH property.
Of those 19 postseason tilts, the Wildcats have won 10, the Friars nine.
Three of those games have required overtime, including a record-setting, five-OT marathon ended by the Wildcats’ Brandy Fisher to clinch the 1996 ECAC pennant.
It will now be 20 do-or-die meetings all time and the first for the current generation of college players when they converge on the Whittemore Center this Saturday for the WHEA quarterfinals.
In terms of overwhelming recurrence, the rivalry is up there with Bruins-Canadiens, which has happened on an unsurpassed 33 occasions in the Stanley Cup playoffs. In terms of all-time evenness, it measures up with the likes of Blackhawks-Red Wings, Maple Leafs-Red Wings and Maple Leafs-Canadiens.
Just as it is in the NHL, there is a greater abundance of competitive teams today and therefore additional intriguing feuds. The women’s NCAA hockey landscape has the likes of Boston College-Boston University and any pairing between Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth and Wisconsin (the only three NCAA champions) just as the NHL has Flyers-Penguins, just to name one.
But Friars-Wildcats will never lack any luster. The current senior classes from each program, who almost missed out on ever facing each other in the playoffs, have served up living proof of that during their careers.
On Dec. 5, 2009, Providence ventured into the Whittemore Center for its first bout with the Wildcats since being bumped out of the Hockey East semifinals in the same venue almost exactly nine months prior.
Going in, the Wildcats were the four-time defending conference tournament champions, having overthrown a preceding PC dynasty that won the first three WHEA crowns in 2003, 2004 and 2005.
The Friars were reeling with a 4-7-6 record at the halfway mark of the regular season. The Wildcats were a snug 10-1-4 on the year and had never lost in any of their 75 home games against a Hockey East adversary since the league’s inception.
Besides breaking up New Hampshire’s home conference winning streak, PC delayed Wildcat head coach Brian McCloskey’s 200th career win, which he would attain three nights later against Boston College.
The win also marked the latest 180-degree reversal in fortune between the feuding programs as Providence, whose previous three seasons had ended at the hands of the Wildcats, went 8-1-0 over the next three season series.
UNH has turned that back around this year―to a degree, anyway. Their soon-to-be graduates of 2013 finally got the better of the Friars in the 2012-13 regular season with a 1-0-2 record.
Those results have effectively helped to give the Cats home ice in this fourth-versus-fifth-seeded showdown. In turn, Providence has failed to finish among the top four in the Hockey East standings for the first time in conference history.
With a win Saturday, UNH can also prevent Providence from advancing to the WHEA semifinals for the 11th time in as many tries. Only the Friars have made it that far in every single Hockey East postseason to date.
The seniors’ introduction to the rivalry had PC breaking up one of New Hampshire’s prized historical distinctions. Now, as they bring closure to their participation in the rivalry, the outgoing Wildcats have a chance to dish up a little eye-for-eye justice.
It will either be that or the Friars will level the all-time scorecard by winning their 10th postseason bout with UNH in 20 tries.
Either way, the intrigue is there to reiterate the reliability of this rivalry. Some things never change.
Al Daniel is a Bleacher Report Featured Columnist and a former student-journalist at Providence College. He covered the PC-UNH matchup for three seasons between 2008 and 2011.