Rivalries in sports are needed to build passion within a fan base. Minnesota Golden Gophers hockey is no different. Geographic location and competitive balance generally help build rivalries between two teams and Minnesota has that with the University of North Dakota.
The border rival across the Red River in Grand Forks has been a common opponent on the Gophers schedule since 1948. The teams started their rivalry in February 1930 with the Gophers winning the first game 6-1. Since then, the combatants have met 289 times with the Maroon and Gold holding a 145-130-15 series advantage.
Minnesota and North Dakota are currently in the middle of a three year schedule hiatus due to the teams joining new conferences this year. North Dakota joined the National College Hockey Conference when the brand new conference was formed in 2011. The NCHC spanned after the announcement that Minnesota and Wisconsin would be leaving to join a new Big Ten hockey conference.
The loss of the rivalry was a bit crushing to hockey fans in Minneapolis and Grand Forks as they had been used to lining up against one another since the WCHA was formed in 1951. For over 50 years the Gophers and North Dakota played in some of the most exciting moments in college hockey history.
Overtime thrillers, line brawls, playoff madness, and the occasional post-game handshake scuffle. These have made games at Mariucci Arena and Engelstad Arena be on the verge of a boil over for years. Now with the announcement that the rivalry will be renewed for at least a couple more years, fans, including myself, will get to watch high-end college hockey where the past still holds more weight than the future.
Minnesota will host a two-game weekend series in 2016-17 at Mariucci, while North Dakota will take the show on the road to Engelstad in 2017-18. Over the next few seasons no matter how Minnesota and North Dakota do in the standings, they will at least have that matchup to look forward to.
The history and tradition that the two college hockey powers have built over the years will get to battle once again in the regular season. Fans will get to walk up Mariucci not knowing what the game will bring as they fondly talk about great moments over 290 previous meetings.
To me, these four meetings are the “Frozen Four” that I am looking forward to attending the most. No national championships. No conference points on the line. Just pure unadulterated college hockey at its finest. Let’s drop the puck.