Rivalry Thursday

Just call it Rivalry Thursday.

The brackets for the NCAA tournament set up national semifinals perfect for the face-painting crowds at the four schools involved. To Denver and Colorado College, who will square off in Thursday’s first game at the Frozen Four, no one ignites more of a fire than the other. The same could be said for Minnesota and North Dakota, with the asterisk that the Gophers have so many rivals that there are many who could fall into the same category.

The intensity will be at its peak when the Pioneers and Tigers tangle in the opener, then again when the Gophers and Sioux get together to close the day.

According to Pioneer Matt Laatsch, another game with CC can't be a bad thing (photo: Melissa Wade).

According to Pioneer Matt Laatsch, another game with CC can’t be a bad thing (photo: Melissa Wade).

With the Colorado schools, it will be the sixth meeting of the season, with Denver leading the series 3-2 after winning the last two games.

“The rivalry will just continue to grow and get stronger,” Colorado College coach Scott Owens said. “What’s interesting this year is both teams are so strong. In the last 10 or 12 years, it’s been alternating who’s been strong … and now both are very strong. This is like the trifecta here in a sense because we had the series for the MacNaughton Cup, which nobody thought could get any bigger or more emotional in our own rinks, and all of a sudden we’re going for the Broadmoor [Trophy] two weeks later, and now we’re in the NCAA semifinals.

“This will definitely be a year in this rivalry that will never be forgotten. In 20 years from now, we’ll still be talking about this month when we played each other for these games.”

Colorado College has a little more to prove in its rivalry because, of late, it has taken its lumps. The Tigers, with their high-scoring tandem of Brett Sterling and Marty Sertich, are in the middle of a scoreless streak against the Pioneers that extends 124 minutes, 3 seconds.

“They’ve done a good job against our line and the rest of our team,” Sertich said. “They’ve got a big [defense] corps that plays well together. They pack it in in front of the net and make it tough to penetrate and get to the areas that you need to get to score. Hopefully we can work a little harder and get to the areas we need to get to.”

The Denver-CC rivalry can get physical. In five games this season, the teams have combined for 212 penalty minutes, an average of 42.4 per game.

Denver is 147-99-8 all-time against the Tigers, with 11 of those meetings coming in the last two seasons.

“The rivalry and playing CC never gets old,” Denver captain Matt Laatsch said. “Obviously, this time when we’re meeting there’s a little more on the line with a chance to play for a national championship. But they’re a very good hockey team and we both know each other very well, so I don’t think either of us are going to surprise each other with anything, but it should be a really good matchup.”

The Minnesota-North Dakota rivalry has just as much fire. In their three games this season, there have been 144 total penalty minutes, an average of 48 a game. Minnesota’s Mike Vannelli and North Dakota’s Rory McMahon each got a game disqualification for a fight in a 6-0 Gophers victory in Grand Forks on Oct. 23.

The Gophers lead the all-time series with the Sioux 132-115-11, but North Dakota won two of the three meetings this season.

“It’s going to be a typical North Dakota-Minnesota game. It’s going to be a battle all the way through,” North Dakota goaltender Jordan Parise said. “Whoever comes to play 60 minutes is going to win this game.”

Minnesota forward Danny Irmen grew up in Fargo, N.D., a safe distance from both schools but close enough to be immersed in the rivalry. Maybe because he was in the hometown of North Dakota State, he didn’t cheer for North Dakota.

“I remember watching great players play, and it’s an honor to be part of it,” Irmen said.

There may be more of that to go around after Thursday.