It would be tough to argue that Minnesota vs. Minnesota-Duluth women’s ice hockey now ranks among the greatest rivalries in college sports given that the programs have only been playing each other for five years. But has any rivalry in college sports been better in its first five years than this one?
Some quick trivia – in those five years, how many combined WCHA regular season titles have been won by the Gophers and Bulldogs? How many WCHA postseason titles? How many national titles?
The answer to all three questions, of course, is five.
But the greatness of the rivalry comes not just from the individual success of the two programs, but also from the passion of the players and the upward spike of attendance whenever they get together on the ice.
Every one of the 24 UMD-Minnesota contests to date has been shockingly unique in the build-up, the on-ice action and the off-the-ice reaction. In just five years, UMD-Minnesota games have decided at-large berths, conference championships and national tournaments. Each team has come back from a two-goal deficit to win, and one team has come back from a three-goal deficit only to lose. Each team’s athletes have played through old injuries and suffered new injuries. Each team has won the conference regular season championship only to watch the other win the national championship.
The rivalry has had everything hockey purists would want – sharp shooting, clever passing, fast skating, disciplined defense, creative takeaways, superb conditioning, gutsy efforts and solid bodychecking. Just because bodychecking is illegal in women’s hockey doesn’t mean it’s absent, especially with these teams.
The all-time series could not be more even. The Gophers have the edge in overall record (11-10-3), total goals scored (72-66) and WCHA regular season titles (3-2). But UMD has the edge in WCHA postseason titles (3-2) and national titles (3-2).
This past January, USCHO counted down the six greatest UMD-Minnesota games of all time. Ten months later, the list has been expanded to 10. With Minnesota and UMD both entering the 2004-05 season series undefeated and ranked among the nation’s three best teams, this list will likely be needing updates for a long time to come.
The Best of Minnesota-Duluth vs. Minnesota
10) February 12, 2000 – Minnesota 2, UMD 2 (OT) – WCHA regular season at the DECC
Rankings and Records: No. 4 Minnesota (24-5-0), No. 5 Minnesota-Duluth (19-3-2)
The Setting: The Gophers had lost the first two ever meetings with UMD back in December and needed to sweep this pair in February to have any realistic chance at the first WCHA regular season title. The problem for the Gophers was that their top two defensemen Winny Brodt and Courtney Kennedy were both out battling injuries. Minnesota still managed to beat UMD 4-3 the night before, but the chance of a repeat looked slim the next day given the battered roster.
The Run of Play: In a surprising turn of events, Kennedy ended up playing through her injury, a deep gash to her knee suffered just days before. She made an immediate impact, assisting on the Gophers’ first goal.
UMD went up 2-1 going into the second intermission, but the game still proved to among the finest played by Minnesota goalie Erika Killewald. She made 51 saves and kept the game close enough for Gopher top scorer Nadine Muzerall to tie the game for good early in the third period.
Memorable Anecdote: To prepare herself for the game, Kennedy spent the entire night before icing her knee. “It was a gutsy performance by a lot of people,” Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson told the Star Tribune.
Upshot: The tie meant the UMD won the first season series against the Gophers, 2-1-1, and ultimately the WCHA regular season title, but the weekend was still successful for Minnesota considering the injuries. The three of four points against UMD that weekend proved crucial to the Gophers earning an at-large bid to the national tournament after the Bulldogs won the league postseason crown as well.
9) October 21, 2001 – Minnesota 1, UMD 1 (OT) – WCHA regular season at the DECC
Rankings and Records: No. 1 UMD (3-0), No. 6 Minnesota (2-1)
The Setting: Defending-champ UMD was coming off a 7-0 victory the day before against the Gophers, who had the look of a rebuilding team with just 14 skaters dressed. The Bulldogs were a heavy favorite to repeat as NCAA and WCHA champions with almost their entire roster returning from the year before. A sparse crowd of 710 showed.
The Run of Play: This game initially looked like it would be more of the same as Laurie Alexander put UMD up 1-0 in the first minute. But Minnesota’s Gwen Anderson tied it nine minutes later, and that was it for the scoring. UMD outshot Minnesota 38-18, but freshman Gopher Brenda Reinen made 37 saves to keep it close.
Memorable Anecdote: The Minnesota players would refer to this game as the turning point of the season – they realized that day they could compete with the best. This game might not have been the most exciting to watch at the time, but it turned a whole program around. Minnesota exceeded expectations across the board in 2001-02 after a disappointing 2000-01 season that ended short of the Frozen Four.
Upshot: When the teams met in January, Minnesota swept UMD, and by March, the Gophers were the WCHA regular season and postseason champions and the No. 1 Frozen Four seed. UMD got the last laugh, however, by winning the 2002 NCAA title after Brown upset the Gophers in the national semifinals.
8) March 4, 2000 – UMD 2, Minnesota 0 – WCHA championship game at Bloomington Ice Gardens
Rankings and Records: No. 3 Minnesota (30-5-1), No. 7 UMD (24-3-3)
The Setting: A standing room only crowd of 1,826 packed the Ice Gardens for the Inaugural Women’s WCHA championship game. UMD had won the first two meetings but Minnesota took three of four points in the second go-round despite a battered roster. An automatic berth to the national tournament was at stake. With selections being made in two weeks, the loser had little clue as to whether its season would be over.
The Run of Play: Goals by Navada Russell in the first period and Brittny Ralph in the third period gave UMD all the scoring it would need. Minnesota would hit nothing but posts, crossbars, and the body of Finnish goalkeeper Tuula Puputti for the full 60 minutes. The tournament MVP, Puputti made 31 saves for the shutout, including 27 in the last two periods.
Memorable Anecdote: Halldorson told the Star Tribune after the game, “It’s clear that they’re the best team in our league this year. I think we’re a close second.” Her concession speech proved to be premature.
The Upshot: UMD earned the WCHA automatic bid to nationals, but the Gophers earned an at-large berth to the same tournament. They would meet again in the national semifinals.
7) March 14, 2004 – Minnesota 4, UMD 2 – WCHA championship game at Ridder Arena
Rankings and Records: No. 1 Minnesota (27-4-2), No. 6 UMD (20-11-2)
The Setting: Minnesota was well on its way to the top seed in the Frozen Four, while UMD was holding on to a thread of hope to get there. Most of the crowd of 1,500 expected the Gophers to conclude their home schedule on the highest of notes.
The Run of Play: The day began awkwardly for Minnesota goalie Jody Horak, who rushed to the bench when she saw the referee’s hand up and teammate Krissy Wendell with the puck. The next thing she knew, the puck was in the net and UMD had 1-0 lead. The Gophers were not deterred by the mishap, however. They scored four unanswered goals before the second intermission and Horak stopped a career-high 43 shots in the 4-2 Minnesota victory. Gopher co-captain Kelsey Bills’ injury-plagued season took a turn for the worse when she couldn’t take her usual place on the third line in the first period, but she came out for the second period and gave her team a lasting lead with a goal on her first shift.
Memorable Anecdote: After the game, UMD coach Shannon Miller campaigned for her team to be rewarded with a Frozen Four berth, because in her opinion, the Bulldogs had the best results in the country against top four teams. When Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson was asked whether she thought the Bulldogs would be in Providence, she responded with a quick no. When asked why, she asked how many losses they had. Finding the answer was 12, she said, “That’s a lot.”
Upshot: UMD indeed failed to make the Frozen Four for the first time in the history of the program. The Gophers earned the top seed and went on to win their first NCAA title
6) February 29, 2004 – Minnesota 7, UMD 5 – WCHA regular season game at Ridder Arena
Rankings and Records: No. 1 Minnesota (23-4-2), No. 6 UMD (17-10-2)
The Setting: The Gophers had dealt UMD loss No. 10 by a 4-2 margin the day before, and conventional wisdom was that the three-time champion Bulldogs could not lose an 11th game and still make the Frozen Four to defend their title. A crowd of 2,359 showed at Ridder to watch the Gophers deliver the supposed death blow.
The Run of Play: The first two periods were as back-and-forth and heated as any in the history of the rivalry. Entering the third intermission, the score was tied 5-5, neither team had led by two goals, and each team had held the lead twice. After the Gophers took a 5-4 lead on a power play late in the second period, an ensuing scuffle led to three double minor penalties for each team. UMD’s Tricia Guest was also assessed with a third penalty, which ironically worked in the Bulldogs’ favor because it led to a Caroline Ouellette shorthanded goal. The 5-5 score held until the 11th minute of the third period, when the Gophers’ Krissy Wendell and Kelly Stephens scored 23 seconds apart on the same penalty kill and held on for the 7-5 win. The Gophers finished with three shorthanded goals, two more than they had on the power play.
Memorable Anecdote: The weekend was Natalie Darwitz’s second after returning from an elbow injury that kept her out six weeks. The Gophers had originally reported that Darwitz would be out for the season, but UMD coach Shannon Miller never believed that for a second. “As soon as I saw that [injury report], I told my team, there’s no way that Natalie Darwitz is going to be out for the rest of the season – she’ll be back by the next time we play Minnesota,” Miller said prior to the series. “I want Natalie Darwitz to be on the ice every time we play Minnesota.” Darwitz proceeded to score three goals and an assist in the Gopher sweep of the Bulldogs.
Upshot: The sweep of UMD, the Gophers’ first since the 2001-02 season, was a huge confidence boost leading up to the postseason. The sweep didn’t really eliminate UMD the Bulldogs might have made NCAAs had they won out their season and the WCHA tournament but it certainly deeply wounded their hopes of a title defense.
5) December 3, 1999 – UMD 5, Minnesota 4 – WCHA regular season game at Mariucci Arena
Rankings and Records: No. 4 Minnesota (10-3), No. 7 UMD (10-0)
The Setting: A crowd of 1,620 showed up to witness the birth of college sports’ next great rivalry. Minnesota, being the established program, was the favorite. But UMD, coached by former Canadian Olympic coach Shannon Miller, expected to give the Gophers a tough battle with an outstanding first-year program powered by transfers and Scandinavians.
The Run of Play: UMD scored in the first minute of each of the first two periods to grab a 2-0 lead, and Minnesota trailed 3-0 by the end of the second period. All three goals came via the combination of U.S. Olympian Jenny Schmidgall (now Potter) and Swedish Olympian Maria Rooth.
Then the wildness began in the third period – six goals were scored in the span of seven minutes. Four of the first five goals belonged to the Gophers, as they scored two in shorthanded fashion to tie the game 4-4. But on the same Duluth power play in which Minnesota had tied the game, defenseman Brittny Ralph delivered the game-winner for UMD.
Memorable Anecdote: The Bulldogs’ top goal scorers for the game were Schmidgall, who scored two of the first three UMD goals and assisted on the second, and Ralph, who scored the last two UMD goals. Not coincidentally, both were former players for Halldorson at Minnesota. Ralph, in particular, stepped up her game – she had only nine goals that season.
Upshot: UMD would win 1-0 the next day in a game with far fewer fireworks. The Bulldogs would win the final regular season series and the WCHA regular season and postseason crowns, but that meant nothing when the teams faced off in the national semifinals.
4) January 10, 2004 Minnesota 4, UMD 3 (OT) WCHA regular season at the DECC
Rankings and Records: No. 1 Minnesota (13-1-1), No. 4 Minnesota-Duluth (10-6-1)
The Setting: The more things change, the more they stay the same. Undefeated Minnesota was supposed to finally assert itself in this series against a three-time defending champion UMD team that had struggled with its lack of depth, but the Bulldogs blew out Minnesota 4-1 on Friday night. Now a home crowd of 1,587 looked for the UMD sweep on Saturday.
The Run of Play: The script looked familiar for the first 50 minutes. Senior Tricia Guest scored to put UMD ahead late in the second period, and the game seemed locked up when freshman Noemie Marin scored to put UMD up 3-1 with just under 10 minutes to go. But Minnesota stormed back as Lyndsay Wall’s power play goal and a late score from Natalie Darwitz tied the game. Just 15 seconds into overtime, Kelly Stephens’
goal sent the Gophers home victorious.
Memorable Anecdote: Late in the game, Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson decided to pair Stephens, Darwitz and Krissy Wendell on the same line at even strength for the first time since the previous season. She said she made the decision simply because her team needed instant offense. “We just dug deep, that’s what it boiled down to,” Halldorson said. “It was just a matter of not giving up. We really put a lot of pressure on them and carried that momentum into overtime.”
Upshot: Women’s college hockey hasn’t been the same since Stephens, Darwitz and Wendell were paired together again that night. An elbow ligament injury to Darwitz from this game postponed the reunification of the line for six weeks, but once she was healthy, no one could stop the Minnesota trio in the run to the NCAA title.
3) November 30, 2002 – UMD 4, Minnesota 3 – WCHA regular season game at Ridder Arena
Rankings and Records: No. 1 Minnesota (13-0-1), No. 3 UMD (9-1-2)
The Setting: 3,056 fans packed Ridder Arena to see the most talent ever assembled in the Minnesota-UMD rivalry. The Bulldogs were the two-time defending national champions with most of their 2002 roster returning, plus Canadian Olympian Caroline Ouellette and Jenny Potter back from a two-year hiatus. Minnesota had won the recruiting battles for freshmen U.S. Olympians Krissy Wendell and Natalie Darwitz. UMD was the preseason favorite, but the Gophers had climbed to the No. 1 spot due to their superior results against Brown and Harvard two weeks earlier.
The Run of Play: Led by two goals from Darwitz, Minnesota led 3-1 deep into the third period, but the Bulldogs scored three unanswered goals in the third period to win it, including two in the final three minutes from Maria Rooth to complete a hat trick.
Memorable Anecdote: UMD had almost two weeks off prior to the series after a disappointing loss to