This weekend, is the last regular season WCHA conference matchup between the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers and the University of North Dakota. After this season, both teams will go their separate ways due to re-alignment, and it looks like it could be four years before the two teams play again in a regular season series.
General consensus is that North Dakota versus Minnesota series is one of the most storied rivalries in all of college hockey. Like I mentioned in the previous paragraph, this could be the last meeting for a while, unless, the two teams meet again in this year’s WCHA playoff and or NCAA playoffs in the future.
That could happen, based on recent history.
A lot of people that I have talked to aren’t very happy with the rivalry going dormant for a while. Personally, I don’t believe the spin coming out of the University of Minnesota why the University of Minnesota isn’t playing North Dakota. It’s a shame the two teams won’t be playing after this weekend for at least for four years.
If you ask the players from the two teams they will tell you that they like playing in this rivalry.
UND senior forward Danny Kristo who is originally from Eden Prairie, Minnesota, had this to say on playing against the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
“It’s such a great rivalry for college hockey,” Kristo said. “I think I am confident enough to say that both schools are power houses for college hockey. I think everyone looks forward to that game every single year and those series every single year. Fans included. I just think it’s kind of a downer. Over the next four years – I feel bad for some of the young guys that are committed here and guys that are committed at Minnesota that aren’t going to get to take part in that rivalry. Which is unfortunate, you know, leagues are changing, times are changing, so we really can’t do anything about it. Hopefully, four years from now, all the fans will still be involved in the rivalry. So hopefully, it will still be going strong.”
The Gopher players feel strongly about the rivalry as well. This is what Gopher forward Zach Budish had to say about playing against UND.
“I think there is always a little extra emotion when you’re playing North Dakota just because of the rivalry,” Budish said. “Most of the guys on our team grew up watching the Gophers and North Dakota play every year. It’s been a lot of back and forth, it’s been pretty even. In my three years here, I think we’re pretty much .500 against them and we’ve played them 15 times or so over the last three seasons. It will definitely be intense and we’ll expect two hard fought games.”
The fans will also miss the rivalry was well. I posed the question to a few of the Gophers fans that I converse with on a regular basis and this is some of the things that they like about the storied rivalry.
Billy Pederson, my neighbor that is a Gopher hockey fan had this to say. “I like the intensity this series brings on and off the ice. There is no other series that keeps me at the edge of my seat from the drop of the puck. For me, it’s because the hockey played between these two is remarkable and rivalry is so important to people in this area. “Gopher-Sioux” week has always been anticipated from the beginning of each season. Good natured ribbing on both sides lasts the whole season, and when it comes to game time, we all want bragging rights.”
Peterson also said, “I have huge respect for both programs. There have been great players on both sides of the ice for as far back as I can remember and that means a lot to us who live in this hockey-crazed area. To have this go away for however long it is, I know I won’t be the only person upset that this rivalry is “taking a break”. I don’t like it at all.”
Keith Westerhoff, a Gopher hockey fan that I come to know from going to the Final Five, had this to say about the rivalry, ”What I like: I mark this series down on the calendar as soon as the schedule comes out, it’s the one series of the year that I get the most pumped up for. I like that one team could be doing very well and the other not so well, but come the games it does not matter, any team can win on any given night. Despite the “incidents” that have happened over the years it just adds to the excitement, you always wait for something to top it. The trash talking between fan bases on the boards the week of is always entertaining as well.”
Keith went on to say, “What I’ll miss: The history obviously, you look at the games and battles these two teams have had over the years and it’s a shame that it will be coming to an end. So many great players have donned the jersey for both teams over the years, guys that grew up together and played together as kids and now battling against each other! This is easily in my mind the biggest rivalry in all of college hockey, but yet I see so many Gopher fans that are glad this rivalry is coming to an end, I just have to shake my head in disgust. I think most of all I’ll just miss the WCHA Final Five…….because most of the time it was Gopher fans and Sioux fans that always filled the place up, the trash talking walking to and from the arenas and just taking a lap around the concourse was always pretty awesome.
Jerred Kline, Minnesota Gophers fan. “Both teams go balls to the wall no matter where they are ranking in the polls and WCHA. Fan base trash talk to see how far in the past each fan base will go back in history. It is the Best Rivalry in college hockey hands down. BC vs. BU not even a close second.
The players: they are probably best buds off the ice and off season, but when they are on the ice it is on and they can’t stand each other. Not even in the handshake line (Well Ben Blood and Finley/Wheeler at least)
Here is what one of my Twitter followers @scofarr, a UND fan, had to say about the rivalry.
I’m going to miss the banter back and forth with Gopher friends, a jacked up REA on a Friday night during introductions, [Jeff] Dubay ripping UND, the intense action on the ice, the shenanigans and scrums, and the endless argument about the which program is better. It’s really a shame that this is ending. Especially when alums on both sides think it should continue every year, including UM godfather of hockey, Lou Nanne.
This is what former Golden Gophers forward/defenseman Andy Brink had to say about the UND versus UMN series taking a break and whether he thought it was a bad decision to not continue the rivalry?
It’s hard to imagine UND and the Gophers not playing. It’s been such a good rivalry and very even. Being only 5 hours away from each other and both programs always being so good, obviously, it’s not good that they are not playing a series every year.”
Yesterday, during media day, this is what UND head coach Dave Hakstol had to say about the historic rivalry between the two teams.
“I love the series,” Hakstol said. “It brings the very best out of everybody. It’s challenges everybody to be at their best. It brings a ton of passion on both sides. For sure that carries over to the fans on both sides. That’s what it should be all about in a rivalry series.”
This is what UND defenseman Joe Gleason formerly of Edina, Minnesota had to say on the rivalry between the Minnesota and the North Dakota.
“I wouldn’t have been a fan of North Dakota if they didn’t have come to Minnesota,” Gleason said. “As a kid growing up, that’s how I got to know who North Dakota was. That’s when I really started loving North Dakota. That was when my dad first brought me to a game; he said you have to watch this team play. It’s an unbelievable rivalry. It’s really cool to see. That’s when I really kind of fell in love with North Dakota as a kid, when they came to Mariucci [Arena]. So, I think that’s really unfortunate, for not just the guys here, but the kids coming up through the game that are still peewees, bantams and high schoolers. It’s a great game to watch. So, hopefully they can figure this out.”
Lastly, the Minnesota and North Dakota rivalry will always be a passionate and an emotional series for both sides involved. When I see fans on either side say, ‘I won’t miss watching my team playing them’ I question whether these fans “truly” understand this series.
When these two team play, records and national rankings mean nothing – I have seen the Gophers ride into town on very long unbeaten streaks – only to watch them leave town with their tails between their legs. I can also remember UND being the better team, only to have Minnesota sweep them. This is the perfect series where stuff happens.
It’s a shame that this historic and heated rivalry can’t go forward at least for the next four years. However, there are many memories from games past that will have to keep the flame lit until these two teams meet again in the future.