Sioux/Gopher Week: Hockey Rivalries

Which team do you consider North Dakota’s biggest rival?

I have Minnesota at the top of my list, along with Boston College, Denver, Michigan and Wisconsin.

And what makes some rivalries so intense? For some of the above-mentioned schools, it’s conference affiliation. Minnesota, Denver, and Wisconsin are among the top teams battling it out with North Dakota for the WCHA title year after year. Familiarity breeds contempt, they say.

But why else? Why are Boston College and Michigan on my list? And why has Denver become such a bitter feud while Wisconsin, until last year, had cooled a bit? It all boils down to tournament time.

Since 1997, UND has met 13 different teams in NCAA action, and of those thirteen, only four (Michigan, Boston College, Ferris State, and Denver) have ended North Dakota’s season. The Fighting Sioux avenged a loss to Michigan in 1998 with playoff wins in 2006 and 2007, while Denver has had UND’s number, defeating the Sioux in 2004 and 2005. Ferris State bounced North Dakota from the 2003 tournament, and the eight tournament games between Boston College and UND (1999, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008) are well-documented.

The teams UND has defeated in NCAA play in that same span include Cornell (1997), Colorado College (1997, 2001), Boston University (1997, 2005), Niagara (2000), Maine (2000), Michigan State (2001), Holy Cross (2004, 2006), Princeton (2008), and Wisconsin (2008). These rivalries are not as intense as the schools listed above, and it is my opinion that it is because these schools have not ended UND’s season on the biggest stage that they are not regarded as such.

Until last year’s thrilling overtime game to decide the MCAA Midwest Regional Championship, Wisconsin and North Dakota had not met in the national tournament since the 1982 title game.

And that leaves us with Minnesota. The 1979 title game between North Dakota and Minnesota, which Minnesota won 4-3, would set off a 25 year span (1980-2004) during which the two schools would not meet in the NCAA tournament. That’s astounding. During that time, Minnesota advanced to the national tournament 20 times (winning titles in 2002 and 2003), and North Dakota advanced to the national tournament 12 times (winning titles in 1980, 1982, 1987, 1997, and 2000), and yet they never played each other.

North Dakota has somewhat atoned for the 1979 title game loss with NCAA victories over Minnesota in 2005 and 2007.

Why, for those 25 years, did the two fan bases continue to circle Sioux/Gopher weekend on their calendars? What was it (or more to the point, what is it) about these two programs that causes every regular season matchup to feel like a playoff game and every WCHA Final Five tilt to feel like the Super Bowl? And that’s saying nothing about my heart rate during overtime of the 2007 West Regional Final or the 2005 Frozen Four Semifinal.

Here are some fan’s opinions on both sides of the Sioux/Gopher rivalry:

“Proximity. UM is the closest elite team to UND. Going to games in Grand Forks, you would see tons of Gopher fans, and that always makes for a heated atmosphere.” OETKB

“I hate the way (North Dakota) steals all of our home grown talent.” Go4er

“(The Gophers) always get the night games at the Final Five – that makes lots of UND fans angry.” dj_hoime

“From the maroon and gold side of things – I’ve come to love the intensity of this rivalry and put this matchup at the top of all rivalries in college sports today.” hoop

And one that sums up what all of us are thinking:

“It comes down to one thing at the end of the day – the scoreboard. Is it 7:30 yet?” Go4er

What do you think? I’d like to hear your thoughts. Your stories. Your memories of the Sioux/Gopher rivalry. Please leave comments about your favorite games and ones you’d like to forget. It’s your turn. It’s your time. It’s Sioux/Gopher week.

Thank you for reading. Click here for a preview of this weekend’s games. Check back after the games for reaction and commentary.

2 thoughts on “Sioux/Gopher Week: Hockey Rivalries”

  1. I developed my love for Sioux hockey back at school in the mid 1980’s graduating with the 1987 Hrkac Circus. How lucky was I?

    After leaving school and moving to Mpls, I had to deal with the whole “living in enemy territory” thing, as well as the pre-internet exposure freeze from living away from Grand Forks. I made some games at Mariucci in the early 1990’s, and even a playoff game against MN at the Civic Center (where I handled Goldy in a throwdown, last game my wife has ever attended with me).

    Well, in my memory the early 1990’s were dark days for my Sioux hockey experience. Gino’s teams just didn’t seem to have it other than a few star players, and I was pretty much in a Sioux news blackout environment.

    Then about 1994-95, I think, MN came to Grand Forks with a huge winning streak. I think it was Blais’ first year. I decided to go down to Champps which was the only place I could watch the games on TV. There I was, in my Sioux shirt, standing behind all the gopher faithful, watching the Sioux take it to them in the first game. I just tried to blend into the background as they were none too happy that night.

    I saw a Sioux team that was different than it seemed in the last couple of years of Gino’s tenure. I saw Sioux players winning races to the puck, and making passes and not playing as individuals. I came back Saturday night and was rewarded with a sweep. Man, was that fun! For me it was a harbinger of things to come.

    TV access started getting better, pretty soon access to the Sioux environment through the internet came available, and my Sioux fan life has been completely different. Those games against the gophers were the start of a new era, in my world.

  2. Nice article Dave. The Sioux are 9-6-1 since Hakstol took the reigns for the Fighting Sioux.
    I can’t wait for the games.

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