College Hockey:
Hostilities may have faded, but Minnesota-North Dakota carry intense rivalry into Frozen Four matchup

North Dakota’s Brian Canady levels Minnesota’s Kris Chucko during the 2005 Frozen Four semifinals (photo: Melissa Wade).

It seems only fitting that one year after they left the WCHA for different conferences, two of the teams involved in one of that league’s fiercest rivalries will meet again on college hockey’s biggest stage.

Dating to 1951 and the first time Minnesota and North Dakota played in the same conference, the two teams often were near the top of the standings and combined to win 12 national championships — five for the Golden Gophers and seven for the then-Fighting Sioux (North Dakota’s moniker before the 2011-12 season).

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When they play in the national semifinals on Thursday in Philadelphia, it will be the 291st meeting between the teams and the fifth in the NCAA tournament.

“I think these are two very respectable programs and that’s why they’ve had success,” said Wally Shaver, the longtime Minnesota radio voice. “They’ve had great administrations and great coaches running these two programs, and that consequently resulted in a rivalry that has always been there.”

That combined success, the schools’ geographic location and a conference schedule that often provided four-plus meetings each season boiled the pot on one of college hockey’s legendary rivalries.

“When the two teams were playing, they weren’t playing for the bottom spot in the league,” said Tim Hennessy, the longtime radio voice for North Dakota. “Whenever Minnesota and North Dakota played it generally was in important games.”

The teams first played on Feb. 4, 1930, 22 seasons before they became members of the Midwest Collegiate Hockey League, which later was known as the Western Intercollegiate Hockey League before its teams reformed as the WCHA.

But the origins of Minnesota and North Dakota’s bad blood stems back to the 1960s and 1970s. At that time, Minnesota frequently had an all-American roster while North Dakota often looked to the hotbed of western Canada for talent.

Dean Blais has a unique perspective on the clash, having played and been an assistant coach at Minnesota before later becoming coach of North Dakota from 1994 to 2004.

“Over the years the rivalry has changed because of the recruiting,” said Blais, who is now the coach at Nebraska-Omaha. “Back a while ago it was a lot of Canadians at North Dakota and Minnesota was all Americans, so there was a little bit of the American-Canadian rivalry mixed in.”

North Dakota sustained more success in the 1960s, but under coach Herb Brooks, Minnesota took flight in the 1970s. That era would culminate in the 1979 NCAA title game as Brooks’ Gophers met the Fighting Sioux under first-year head coach John “Gino” Gasparini at Olympia Stadium in Detroit.

“That season’s rivalry really got started in a game at Minot, N.D., when they had the line brawl,” Hennessy said. “I’ll never forget after the game Herb coming up and saying tell that Italian [whatever you want to call it] person that if he’s going to pull that stuff in this league, he’s got another thing coming.”

That titanic title contest was decided on one of college hockey’s most historic goals.

“You can still see it on YouTube with [Gophers forward Neal] Broten diving and chipping the puck over the sliding North Dakota goaltender,” Hennessy said. “It was a hotly contested game and afterwards Minnesota rolled out a big banner that said ‘The All-American team.’ That really put some salt in the wound and energized both sides.”

North Dakota claimed the title a year later as Gasparini’s Fighting Sioux enjoyed success throughout the 1980s, also claiming NCAA titles in 1982 and 1987.

Minnesota impressed in the late 1980s and early 1990s with coach Doug Woog at the helm, while North Dakota slid back.

Enter former Golden Gophers player Blais to re-stoke the fires of rivalry.

Under Blais’ watch the Sioux appeared in the national title game three times in five years, winning a pair of titles (1997 and 2000), and beginning a stretch of 16 NCAA tournament appearances in 17 years.

“In 1997 we played Minnesota in the WCHA Final Five [championship game],” Blais said. “Peter Armbrust, from Edina, Minn., scored the overtime winning goal to propel us to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.”

During his tenure, Blais’ teams utilized many talents like Armbrust from the Gopher State. Two of their most prominent Minnesota products were goaltender Karl Goehring of Apple Valley (1997-2001) and Zach Parise of Minneapolis (2002-04).

Current St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko, who was an assistant coach at Minnesota from 2001 to 2005, remembers his team opening the new Ralph Engelstad Arena in a nonconference clash between the two schools in 2011 and the personal battles between Parise and Gophers forward Thomas Vanek.

North Dakota and Minnesota play in the 2007 WCHA Final Five championship game, won by the Gophers’ Blake Wheeler with a diving overtime goal (photo: Skip Strandberg).

“The [New Ralph] opener turned out to be a crazy hockey game with [Jordan] Leopold scoring from almost the other end of the rink,” Motzko said of Gophers’ 7-5 win. “Then [a year later] you had the Vanek and Parise battle, with Vanek winning the league’s rookie of the year.”

Minnesota returned to prominence under coach Don Lucia, winning back-to-back national championships in 2002 and 2003. One of Lucia’s first recruiting coups was nabbing Grand Forks native Grant Potulny (2000-04), who is now an assistant coach on Lucia’s staff.

En route to Lucia’s first title, the Golden Gophers ended UND’s season with a memorable first-round WCHA series sweep.

“We won the first game 7-2 and then Game 2 was really tight,” Motzko said. “In overtime, our defenseman Keith Ballard was tangled up in our zone with one of their guys. As he was going down with him, he threw [the Sioux] player’s jersey over his head. [Keith] then gets up and skates down to the other end of the ice where he tapped in the winning goal.”

In the historic 2004-05 season when four WCHA teams reached the Frozen Four, North Dakota knocked off Minnesota 4-2 in the national semifinals before losing to Denver in the title game. Two years later, the Gophers won a WCHA tournament title with a 3-2 overtime win over the Fighting Sioux.

“The game that comes to mind immediately for me was when Blake Wheeler got that diving overtime goal with a backhanded swat of a puck out of the air,” Shaver said. “It was a dramatic and really intense game topped off by one of the more unique hockey plays I’ve ever seen.”

North Dakota’s Chris Porter scores in overtime to beat Minnesota in the 2007 West Regional final in Denver (photo: Skip Strandberg).

However, the Fighting Sioux got the better of the Golden Gophers by the same score in the NCAA tournament before losing 6-4 in the national semifinals to Boston College.

“The 2005 NCAA game between the two teams was pretty nondescript, but I can still see Chris Porter scoring on a wraparound goal to beat Minnesota in overtime in the 2007 NCAA tournament,” Hennessy said. “I don’t think anybody will ever forget that one.”

Most recently, Minnesota ousted North Dakota in the 2012 NCAA tournament 5-2 before losing to the eventual champion Eagles 6-1 in the national semifinals. It was a revenge win for the Golden Gophers, who were crushed by North Dakota 6-3 in the WCHA semifinals one week earlier.

With Penn State starting a hockey program, the long awaited formation of the Big Ten hockey conference finally came to fruition. One of the unintended consequences was the breakup of some of college hockey’s great rivalries like Minnesota-North Dakota.

“We’ve kind of always known that if a sixth Big Ten school added college hockey, there was going to be a new conference,” Shaver said. “But I don’t think the intensity or interest level with a Minnesota-North Dakota game going forward will ever change. There is way too much out there with social media and other things to fuel the fire and, believe me, these players are well aware of it.”

There will be plenty of interest in this game, but like Detroit-Chicago or Detroit-Colorado in the NHL, the new landscape could result in some water being thrown on the fires of the rivalry, especially for the fans.

“As the years go by I think Minnesota-North Dakota probably will diminish,” Hennessy said. “I don’t think North Dakota will have any problem finding new rivals, but in the future even if the two teams meet in nonconference play like they will in two years, it just won’t be the same.”

Yet, this week in Philadelphia, the rivalry fires will be renewed once again, regardless of conference affiliation. With the stakes involved (neither team has won a NCAA title since 2003), this latest chapter has the potential to be among the best games, even if it’s not quite as personal as it used to be.

“Obviously the excitement of the North Dakota-Minnesota rivalry is there right from square one,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “Nobody is hiding from that, everybody embraces that and is excited for that, but I haven’t seen a whole lot different in the demeanor of my team.”

Some players came to each school itching for a crack at playing the other. Others remember some of the team’s most recent battles. Now it is up to the coaches to make sure their teams are prepared to handle the big stage and keep their composure.

“I don’t have to throw on a tape to know how North Dakota plays because over the years we’ve played them enough,” Lucia said. “It’s a great matchup and it’s good for college hockey that we are playing on this stage. I think the fans will light up the message boards a little bit and will enjoy that part of it. We’re looking forward to playing a very good, well-coached team and it should be a really good game.”

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  • http://twitter.com/dirtysconsin #1 Wisco SportsFan

    Gotta say, after much diliberation (and inebriation haha), gophs fans are MUCH more tolerable than The Fighting Mt Rushmores from South Canada (lol). Go golden goofs.

    • jmsptrk

      yessir. we both have a holes. it’s just that their a holes are bigger than our a holes.

      • http://twitter.com/dirtysconsin #1 Wisco SportsFan

        Well I’m proud of them for having something to hang their hats on.

  • Johnny Quest

    Whenever I think of the Minnesota/North Dakota rivalry I envision a speedy 18 year old babyfaced MN kid playing against a 22 year chippy Canadian. North Dakota probably isn’t the goon team of years past, but I still think they are predominately Canadians with a few Northern Minnesotans sprinkled in.

    • david

      We have 3 North Dakotans, 4 Minnesotans, and a player a piece from Wisconsin, California, Arizona, Missouri, and Washington DC. Next season has incoming recruits from Grand Forks, East Grand Forks and Wisconsin.

      • nogofer

        If the gofers are Minnesota’s team then North Dakota is North America’s team…

    • david

      But historically you are absolutely right haha

  • Greg Corwin

    1979, Minnesota / North Dakota, last game of the regular season with the MacNaughton Cup on the line. Minnesota having won the night before to tie NoDak for first place.

    Roughly a minute left in the game, NoDak up by a goal and Minnesota goalie on the bench for the extra attacker, when North Dakota’s (and Warroad, MN’s), Dave Christian blocks a Minnesota shot in the North Dakota zone and heads for the Minnesota goal.

    Christian decides to put an exclamation point on the North Dakota victory by slapping the puck into the empty Minnesota goal as soon as he crosses the blue line. Needless to say, Minnesota players were not pleased.

    A week, as the blog pointed out, Minnesota eliminates North Dakota from the NCAA’s.

    A few months later and Dave Christian joins nine U of M players (among others) on the gold medal team. East / west wasn’t the only rivalry when Herb Brooks put that team together.

  • Timothy French

    It’s easy to cheer against the Gophers and Minnesota. They are from the ‘Land of 10,000 excuses’. It’s not fair… ND recruits Canadians.. boo frickin hoo. You’re a Liberal State, don’t you treat all persons equal? You have plenty of talent in MN, heck we recruit MN players… Don’t go hating because you ‘primarily’ choose to stay in-state with your recruiting. It would be great if ND had the population to do that. We recruit to form winning teams, and if we come up short you don’t hear any whining that it’s not fair Minnesota takes all the good MN players… Read the posts below and you’ll see what being a Gopher fan is really all about. Change your M to an E for Excuse you pathetic sore losers.

    • GoGophs


      • Guest

        Sounds like somebody needs a nap.

    • ExiledGopher

      “you pathetic sore losers.” —- says the fan of the team who’s started fights in the handshake line not once but twice….thanks, I’m gonna be laughing all day about that one!

      • UofMGoldenChokers

        Dont forget about the hefty chop to the back of the legs on Blood seconds before the game was over for no reason.

        • ExiledGopher

          Actually, if you watch the video before the chop, trip, or whatever that the Gopher player (not Kyle Rau) did do was in respond to Blood drilling the puck at a gopher player and then cross checking Seth Ambroz (albeit weakly). In a big surprise, Blood had a chance to go with Ambroz but alas, he chose Rau — who is about 8 inches shorters and 50 pounds lighter.

          • MikeE

            Exactly. One event leads to another event leads to another event leads to another….etc, etc, etc. If someone chirps at you or pulls a cheapshot you do what you have to do, but you do it during the game. If someone chirps at you during the handshake line you just ignore it, and let that guy be the true a-hole. If Rau was mouthing off during the handshake line that’s bad on him, but you take care of it during the next game. Bottom line is you don’t start fights in the handshake line (twice).

          • UofMGoldenChokers

            Love it….neither has the balls to try it during a game……

          • MikeE

            You’re absolutely right…neither Rau or Blood had the balls to drop the gloves during the game! That’s a joke btw…I know what you were getting at.

          • Brian

            Were you going through the handshake line? Who said Rau was mouthing off or chirping during that? I doubt he was.

          • MikeE

            Well I did say “if” he was mouthing off. Rau is an antagonist, even we Gopher fans realize that….and I would definitely not put it past him.

          • Brian

            During the game, yes. Post game handshake, no. He is smart enough to not carry it on there.

          • jmsptrk

            pure speculation. you don’t know that.


      Ok, buddy! You just keep that anger flaring

    • MNGopherGuru

      Who the F is this guy??

      • http://twitter.com/dirtysconsin #1 Wisco SportsFan

        click on his user name and check out his twitter feed. he’s a very insecure lost soul (and fat too, lol)

        • Timothy French

          Fat? Going personal off my Twitter face pic? You didn’t want to make fun of my new born son? I’m 6’4″ and 240lbs, definitely not fat. I’m not a fighter either, but I don’t do personal slams, so either you can man up or we have a problem. I travel a ton for work and get to Madison from time to time. If you want to meet this ‘fat’ , ‘insecure lost soul’ I’m sure I could arrange it.

          • http://twitter.com/dirtysconsin #1 Wisco SportsFan


    • http://twitter.com/dirtysconsin #1 Wisco SportsFan

      Methinks somebody is a bit insecure about Thursday!!

      • http://twitter.com/dirtysconsin #1 Wisco SportsFan

        gotta love how he tries to rope politics into sports too. people like you are not part of the problem, you ARE the problem.

        • Timothy French

          You are the problem? You are on every Sioux or ND sports blog (and even blocked from some of them). You bring hate, jealousy, and hypocrisy. You don’t think there isn’t any politics in sports? Get a frickin clue, politics and sports start at a very early age. If you aren’t aware of how money, sports, and politics all intermingle then you’re just an uninformed sports fan. Education, it’s something you get in college… just happens I got mine at UND. (I can do this all day).

          • Brian

            Sure is easy to get under the skin of a NoDak fan. Wisco is stirring the pot and you’re just throwing gas on the fire. Lighten up, Francis!

          • http://twitter.com/dirtysconsin #1 Wisco SportsFan

            loving it!!

          • http://twitter.com/dirtysconsin #1 Wisco SportsFan

            lol. this guy is a hoot!

          • Timothy French

            Seriously you’re not under my skin. I think both of you are underestimating the quality of banter when it comes to sports teams. As I both took a quick look at your previous comments (on all links) I can whole heartedly say that I’m greatly disappointed. Wisco, you go back and forth so much I’m not sure what to think. You cheer/hate the Gophers, then say ‘it’s an easy win’ when Wisc is paired with ND in the regionals, then lose and go back to sucking the gopher teet.. You’re killing me. You see I am an North Dakota fan, I have nothing left for other teams. If UND loses on Thursday you won’t see me jumping on the BC/Union bus because I dislike the Gophers. I’m loyal, that’s kind of a big deal when it comes to who you root for. I hope to see some good hockey games this weekend. If my team brings back number 8, well then that is just bonus.

          • http://twitter.com/dirtysconsin #1 Wisco SportsFan

            …and boom goes the dynamite. I’m liking this guy more and more. Sing it brotha!!

          • Timothy French

            That must be the Wisconsin way of folding your hand. With the semester off I hope you take time to ponder and think of some good ‘zingers’ of your own. Good luck to you kid.

          • http://twitter.com/dirtysconsin #1 Wisco SportsFan

            hehe, I still like you a lot. Even if you don’t like me. *blushes*

          • gmz

            Well played, Wisco…damn!

          • http://twitter.com/dirtysconsin #1 Wisco SportsFan

            this ain’t my first trollin’ rodeo!

          • Brian

            He did say earlier that gopher fans are more tolerable to him. You are kind of proving his point.

      • Timothy French

        Why are you even on this thread? I’m pretty sure your team wasn’t the least bit insecure about the regional’s match up with ND. Played it down… it’s just a game right. Number one seed right… Good luck next year.

        • http://twitter.com/dirtysconsin #1 Wisco SportsFan

          Hi buddy! :-)

    • TVClemson

      Holy tantrum batman.

    • Scott Stone

      Dude…. from one Sioux fan to another, pump the brakes.

    • Yankton

      People who lump politics with sports know nothing about either.

      • Timothy French

        Hmm. No politics in sports? Wow, you’re a bright one.

        • http://twitter.com/dirtysconsin #1 Wisco SportsFan

          k bro…

    • Mike Peterson

      I recall Nodak starting fights in handshake lines twice, I remember one of your players who i wont name targeting a gopher defenseman trying to knock his head off in the corner for no reason. Go back to your hole and calm down. Dont ever bring politics into sports. Sports are the one time a lib and con or a dem and a rep can sit down together have a drink and be brothers in cheering there teams.

    • Timothy French

      I can only imagine what was said in the handshake line to trigger the altercation. Rau is ‘chirpy player’, won’t fight for the mouth he has but he’ll talk the talk. Reminds me a bit of Hextall (though Hextall fought), not saying that is a completely bad thing but when you talk trash in a handshake line, come on. The score spoke for itself, probably didn’t need a barb from Rau. Am I nervous about Thursday, hell no (oh by the way I’ll be there if any of you want to meet ‘who the ‘f’ this guy is’. I don’t need to hide behind some monker or symbol). If we come out and play the best we can and still come up short I’ll be okay with it. If we get our asses handed to us and play like crap I’ll be upset with our team (kind of like the BC game in Milwaukee; took us too long to get past the jitters). This is the best time of the year and anything can happen (especially with this rivalry).

      • http://twitter.com/dirtysconsin #1 Wisco SportsFan

        USDA certified clown shoes

    • reardensteel

      That’s so unfair of you.

    • Goldenchild

      of course you don’t have the population, who the hell would wanna live there

    • ndhockey

      Hey Tampon Terry your the best example of a Nodak No Name fan and why a lot of people love to make fun of your lack of knowledge on hockey. I myself live in the crap hole of grand forks and have heard every excuse in the book from every drunk fan that stumbles out of the social club that they try to pass off as a hockey rink. So before you call the kettle black make sure you ain’t the pot.

      • UofMGoldenChokers

        You can move out of that “crap hole” anytime you’d like…….you act like you are being forced to stay.

      • UofMGoldenChokers

        Also love the “social club” of a hockey rink……even if peole are paying attention or not at the rink, at least they fill the seats…..ever seen that pole barn marihoochi arena? The sign coming in shoud read “Greatest sold out arena with the most empty seats.” Hey, look, Wisconsin is in town…..and 1500 empty seats……pretty pathetic showing for an area that has 3.5 million living around it…..cant even get everyone to even show up at the games.

        • Brian

          It’s tough not being the only show in town. Two pro sport teams to compete with for the entertainment dollars in this economy. North Dakota in the winter, all you have is hockey and oil.

          • UofMGoldenChokers

            “This economy”……the seats are sold…..people just flat out dont show up……

      • nogofer

        I won’t miss you if you leave….

  • http://twitter.com/dirtysconsin #1 Wisco SportsFan

    I apologize for breaking (or winning?) the internet.

  • MNHockey

    Does anyone know where to find a video or clip of Ballard scoring the goal after doing the jersey pullover?

  • sgjsdad

    I’m not sure where the writer thinks the hostilities between UMN and UNoDak have faded. From the exchanges I’ve read, heard and been a part to the hostilities have very much picked up right where they left off in winter 2013!

    According to UNoDak fans the Gophers and their fans have a “holier than thou” opinion of themselves and their hockey program and are a bunch of Twin Cities snobs. According to UMN fans UNoDak hockey is one of two things a very bored fan base has to occupy themselves during long cold North Dakota winters … the other being excessive drinking!

    No, this rivalry and the pointless banter between fans of both schools about which side has the more obnoxious fanbase has picked up right where it left off and one could and should have seen a matchup in the NCAA tournament between these two schools coming a mile away.

    • jdhockeyboyz

      We Gopher fans actually think of ourselves and our team as God’s gift to the hockey world, to set the record straight.

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