I grew up a basketball fan—a college basketball fan in particular. I never really got into the pro game. Why? It’s simple. What sets apart college basketball is the passion and atmosphere, especially that which exists in rivalries, the chief of which is North Carolina-Duke.
What if I told you that after this season, the Tar Heels and Blue Devils were no longer going to play each other in the regular season, at least for a while? You’d have a 93-year-old rivalry that probably wouldn’t go extinct but nonetheless would be heavily damaged.
Thankfully, that’s not happening. If you start removing rivalries from college basketball, the game will still survive, but there will always be a sort of magic missing.
Now what if I told you that a 65-year-old rivalry between two of college hockey’s most storied programs was coming to an end, at least in its present form?
That is happening.
This weekend marks the last two regular-season matchups between the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux and the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers until the 2016-17 season at the earliest. After this season, North Dakota moves to the newly formed National Collegiate Hockey Conference while Minnesota moves to the newly formed hockey version of the Big Ten Conference.
So why can’t the rivals still play each other every season? Rachel Blount of the Star Tribune explains:
Teams play a maximum of 34 games, and the Gophers’ Big Ten schedule will account for 20 of those. They also will continue to host the Mariucci Classic and play eight games against in-state rivals Minnesota Duluth, Minnesota State Mankato, St. Cloud State and Bemidji State. That leaves four games against nonconference opponents per season.
[Minnesota head coach Don] Lucia said that school policy prohibited the Gophers from scheduling nonconference games against North Dakota as long as it kept its Fighting Sioux nickname in defiance of NCAA rules. While North Dakota continued that battle, he got the opportunity to lock in games against Notre Dame, Boston College and Northeastern in deals that leave no openings in the schedule until 2016-17.
Thus, when the final buzzer sounds on Saturday night, it marks the end of an era.
The 144-130-14 series record (in favor of the Gophers) says much about the closeness of the series but little about the memorable moments and bad blood between the teams.
I mean “bad blood” quite literally, at least when referring to last season. In a lack of respect to the sportsmanship tradition of the handshake line, North Dakota’s Ben Blood shoved Minnesota’s Kyle Rau. Now as a North Dakota fan, while not condoning Blood’s actions, I will say that he was provoked.
And let’s not forget the “timeout game” that also happened last season. His team trailing 3-0 with 5:53 remaining in the second period of the WCHA Final Five semifinal, North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol called a timeout. What happened next was the stuff of legend: North Dakota rattled off six unanswered goals to win 6-3 and advance to the championship versus Denver. A reversal of fortune occurred just over a week later with the Gophers knocking the Sioux out of the national tournament with a 5-2 win.
Then there’s Gopher Blake Wheeler’s diving game-winning goal in the 2007 WCHA Final Five championship. But again, a reversal of fortune occurred just over a week later, when Chris Porter sent the Sioux to the Frozen Four with a game-winning wraparound goal.
They say all good things come to an end. Well, this classic college rivalry is one good thing that never should. When the two teams hit the ice tonight and tomorrow night, be sure to savor every second. The rivalry might never be the same again.