Anatomy of a Rivalry

by Sammy Kardon | 2/1/02 6:00am

Rivalries in pro and college sports are conceived and born in many different ways. Some are geographic (Mets-Yankees), some are based on a long history (Harvard-Yale) and some come about because both teams happen to very good at the same time (Celtics-Lakers).

Rivalries are at their most intense when both teams are at the top of their sport. Considering the phenomenal success the Dartmouth women's hockey team has had over the past few years, it has acquired several very bitter foes.

Harvard and Brown, the two other Ivy powerhouses in women's hockey, will always have a special place in Dartmouth's heart, but the Big Green's only true geographic foe is its only true in-state rival: the University of New Hampshire.

There is a new twist this year, though.

Thanks to the realignment and expansion of the ECAC, No. 4 Dartmouth (14-2-2, 7-1-0 ECAC North) now competes in the ECAC North while UNH (14-9-2, 8-4-1 ECAC East) completes in the ECAC East. Friday night's game in Durham will not count in the conference standings, but that doesn't matter to the Big Green women.

"I definitely don't think it makes the games any less intense," co-captain Kristin King '02 said. "If anything, they will be more intense because we want to show that our division is just as strong or stronger than their division. The cross-conference games are always big ones because we don't get to play them as often, but also since there was that big rivalry before, it is still a major pride thing."

Although this is a relatively down year for the Wildcats -- they are not ranked in the polls, but hold the No. 14 slot in the PairWise computer rankings -- they have always played the Big Green tough. In fact, being able to beat UNH was a big step in Dartmouth's long, hard journey to its current membership in the national elite of women's hockey.

Although UNH dropped both its games to Dartmouth last year, 4-1 and 5-2, it split with the Big Green, losing 4-0 and winning 5-1, the year before. This year, because the teams are in different divisions, there will be only one meeting and the game takes on different dimensions.

The winners of this game will be the undisputed queens of Granite State hockey, and it is by no means a forgone conclusion that Dartmouth will take that title, especially considering that UNH is fourth in the nation in scoring defense.

"They are a team with something to prove," co-captain Kim McCullough '02 said. "They won a couple big games early in the season [tying No. 1 Minnesota and beating No. 8 Ohio State] and I am sure they are looking to get themselves back on track. We have a big target on our backs and I am sure that they would love to get back on track by having a good showing against us."

If Dartmouth has one weakness, it is its propensity to allow other teams of lesser skill and national prominence to come in and outwork them. The Big Green's national title-contender status means that some teams can make their entire season, as Princeton did earlier this year, just by beating Dartmouth.

Dartmouth will also need to watch out when No. 10 Providence comes to Thompson on Sunday afternoon.

The Friars, another old conference rival gone to the East division, have an arguably better team than UNH even if the rivalry is not as intense.

Providence is fifth in the nation in scoring offense, although its 3.57 goals per game average is not as impressive as Dartmouth's nation-leading 5.17. The Friars are 12-8-3, but ride an eight-game unbeaten streak into a matchup with Northeastern tonight.

"We have always had tough games against Providence," McCullough said. "They are a very balanced team with a good deal of depth, which makes them a good matchup for us."

Clearly, the Big Green should win both games, but the possibility of losing also exists in both contests. At this point in the season, every game takes on more meaning as Dartmouth struggles to keep its No. 4 PairWise ranking, which all but guarantees it the last spot in the Frozen Four.

Even coming off two impressive wins against then-7th-ranked Mercyhurst last weekend, the Big Green women are well aware of their tenuous situation.

"For the rest of the season, every single game is important," King said. "There really isn't any one game that isn't important or that is going to be easy, so we are going to have to have the momentum every weekend until the end."

So long as Dartmouth keeps that in mind, it shouldn't have too much trouble dousing two old rivals this weekend.