Moments, memories come back when it’s Minnesota-North Dakota week

Jake Marto of North Dakota and Minnesota’s Aaron Ness both grew up in the Upper Midwest following the WCHA, so they understand the significance of the schools’ rivalry.

Marto, a Grand Forks, N.D., native, went to high school across town from Ralph Engelstad Arena and Ness grew up in Northwest Minnesota, where there’s a mix of Fighting Sioux and Gophers fans. But unlike so many kids who saw the rivalry from the seats or in front of the TV, these guys grew up to live it.

North Dakota and Minnesota play in the 2007 WCHA Final Five. (Skip Strandberg)
North Dakota and Minnesota play in the 2007 WCHA Final Five (photo: Skip Strandberg).

“It’s always a weekend you have circled on your calendar,” Marto said. “It’s exciting — the whole week and the buildup to the games. It’s exciting how the whole town gets behind you. The intensity seems so much higher than other games. Every game counts, but this one is a little bit more.”

Added UND senior Derek LaPoint: “I was a Midwestern kid so I went to the Final Fives when I was a kid so I know the history of [the rivalry]. You don’t get a real taste of it until you’re here.”

It’s a rivalry rivaled by few others across college hockey. Take the intensity and impact of body checks of any other matchup in the WCHA, multiply it and that’s what you get in the UND-Minnesota series.

The only series of the regular season between UND and Minnesota starts at 7:35 p.m. CST Friday and 7:05 p.m. Saturday at Ralph Engelstad Arena.

“It’s a different game because both teams are so at each other,” said Ness, a junior defenseman from Roseau, Minn., whose dad played 19 games for the Sioux from 1982 to 1985. “There’s always a lot at stake when we played. Growing up, I could always tell it was a big rivalry. I think my dad’s joined my side and he’s a Gopher guy now.”

The battle goes back to the old barns, whose names were passed on to the present buildings (Mariucci, 1993) (Engelstad, 2001). The names of the people alone dig up memories of the rivalry: the coaches Blais and Woog, the smallest of Hobey Baker Award winners Duncan and Bonin, the goalies Goehring and Hauser.

The rivalry isn’t known by a catchy name and the teams don’t compete for a traveling trophy, but have battled for the Broadmoor Trophy three times. The Final Five championship game meetings between the programs should be engraved in the memories of WCHA junkies.

As a 9-year-old I watched on TV as Peter Armbrust beat Steve DeBus in overtime of the 1997 final. I was in a New York City hotel room when “SportsCenter” named Blake Wheeler’s attempt-to-save-the-Gophers-from-icing-goal the top play of the day. Gophers fans always compare Wheeler’s goal to Neal Broten’s sprawling shot and goal against UND in the 1979 NCAA title game.

Half the fun of Sioux-Gophers games is watching what goes on after the whistle: Charlie Wasley (Minnesota) mixing it up with Kevin McKinnon (UND) and the Gophers’ Scott Bell taking on the Sioux bench in the last season at the “old” Mariucci — look it up on YouTube (about 4:50 in).

More recently after a tie in 2008, Travis Zajac and Tony Lucia got to blows as the final horn blew, Joe Finley subsequently took Wheeler out of the handshake line, and the teams ended up in a standoff at center ice with both coaches on the ice.

“I don’t think there’s much love in our relationship,” said Minnesota senior defenseman Kevin Wehrs. “Every game we play with them is a big game. It’s physical and guys seem to pick up the tempo on both sides.”

Wehrs took a big check from UND’s Matt Frattin in the third game of last season’s WCHA playoffs first-round series when Frattin left his feet to charge Wehrs along the boards. Frattin received a five-minute contact-to-the-head penalty.

“That’s hockey; it’s a rough game and things like that happen,” Wehrs said.

But the hits and the tangles are secondary to wins and losses when the Gophers and Sioux get together, and that’s where the Sioux have a 5-2-3 edge in the last 10 meetings. For years, they battled for the No. 1 spot in the league. UND will look to stay ahead of Denver and Minnesota-Duluth this weekend with the Pioneers and Bulldogs two points back.

“We know it’s going to be intense but we’re here to get four points this weekend,” LaPoint said. “From a national standpoint these are big games for us.”

With seven weeks left in the season, the MacNaughton Cup is probably out of reach for the Gophers, who are eight points behind first-place UND. Minnesota is in sixth place, teetering on the home-ice cutoff for the WCHA playoffs. The Gophers have been on the road for the WCHA first round two out of the last three seasons. Minnesota has never started the playoffs on the road two years in a row under the current format.

“Every point is huge and we just have to focus on getting as many wins as possible,” Ness said.

Gophers goalie Kent Patterson is no longer sharing the crease with senior Alex Kangas, whose career with the Gophers is over after he announced Wednesday he’ll undergo season-ending hip surgery. Patterson (2.50 goals-against average, .918 save percentage) has played the majority of Minnesota’s minutes so he’s seasoned, but he’s playing at Engelstad where he gave up five goals on 43 shots in two games last season. UND averages 3.7 goals per game at the Ralph.

“It’s always been one of those weekends where it’s hard to get tickets because everyone wants to come and watch,” LaPoint said. “We look forward to playing these guys because we only get them for one weekend this year. It makes for a little more intensity and you don’t need a lot to get up for it.”


  1. Look at this – another week, another pile of stinky poo ignoring every team in the conference besides those in one series. What a joke this column has become. I’m officially done clicking on it…

    • Normally I would agree, but in this case, Sioux/Gophers is clearly the best rivalry in the WCHA, if not the nation, and with new teams added to the league they only play one weekend. Sure Wisco/Duluth is a “good” series, but it doesn’t compare to this one. Fans from both teams wait all year for this. I am glad this series is highlighted. I could careless about what the columnists think about Michigan Tech’s series, or that Omaha is playing Bemidji. For this week, this is clearly the series to watch and write about. GO SIOUX!

      • Then have a feature on this series, and a seperate column for the rest of the games. That’s what this site used to do. It’s a sad shell of its former self. USCHO has become a glorified message board, and other places do the actual reporting at this point…

        • Click on the other columns this week…they are pretty much the same thing this is. Focusing on one aspect of the league during the week. I don’t think it is so much the WCHA writers, but more a philosophy change at USCHO. I too remember when there was legitimate insight into each series, big or small, with of course the highlighted series getting more attention. I liked it better too. But until things change at the top, or someone starts a better site, we are stuck.

    • Dude…. it’s a column…. Look at the last part of the column… USCHO covers the WCHA all week long on the WCHA Blog, with weekend recaps on Monday, picks on Friday, and updates during the week … they tell you what they are going to give you. Go somewhere else to read stuff if you don’t like it. This is a great article. Period

  2. USCHO has really dropped the ball on its content. Looks to me they are taking the easy road and only concentrating one series a weekend. Truly unhappy!!

  3. I still don’t think the Frattin hit was illegal. Wehrs slammed on the brakes and started leaning back with alligator arms which made it much more devastating than what it would have been had he dropped his shoulder and took on the hit. Regardless, this series is easily the most enjoyable to watch every year. I’m a Sioux fan, but have always loved hearing Woog and Mazzo try to sound unbiased while at the same time be the biggest bunch of homers on tv.

  4. Yeah I agree. There is normally a lot of empty complaining here, but USCHO should start taking notice. These columns are becoming only 1-2 team looks every week and I too am about to stop wasting my time with the site.

  5. Remember… Remember… The Gophers’ Surrendered
    Goalies, Defensemen, the Lot.
    I See No Reason, Why the Gopher Defeat Last Season
    Should EVER Be Forgot…

    Sioux 6 – Gophers 0
    Sioux 2 – Gophers 4
    Sioux 4 – Gophers 1


  6. It’s all East Coast bias. Every time I come here I have to weed through all the east coast articles and hype. Thanks for looking at other teams for once. Sioux/Gophers is best college rivarly. Go Sioux.

  7. I’m not sure what everyone is remembering about when we previewed every series, but the last time we did that was, I think, in 2003. What we’re trying to do now is highlight big-picture items in the Thursday “This Week” columns and get to other topics in the blog entries (Sunday/Monday, Tuesday/Wednesday and picks on Friday). When you combine that, I think there’s more content at more times of the week.

    Anyone with specific comments or questions, please feel free to e-mail me at [email protected].

  8. Yale is terrible and obviously plays lower tier teams. Dont know why they are #1. They would be lower tier in WCHA if they were in that league.

  9. Todd,

    I think what most of us are frustrated at is the lack of worthwhile content from WCHA writers. It is almost all fluff. Take a look at the recaps we get after the weekend series. Anyone can look at a box score and read a recap to summarize games. There is no insight. The fans in WCHA are knowledable and feel this is the best league in the country, therefore we should have the best writers providing the best information and insight. The mid-week columns are almost always posted last to every other league and rarely provide insightful overviews on the teams. For instance, this particular article is great and should be posted midweek. But then there should be a follow up column going over the rest of the teams and match ups.

    If you follow people’s comments over this season, we have all wanted to go back to when each series had a paragraph or two explaining the highlights and what to watch for. All we get now is a blurb followed by picks at the end of the week. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to say “UND is on a hot streak, so I expect a sweep”. Or “I wanna call a sweep, but I’ll go with split.”

    A feature column highlighting a team or two mid week is great, but then during the picks column, how about a look into each series with some real perspective and analysis. Most of us have played/followed hockey our whole lives. It doesn’t seem our writers care as the fans/readers.


    • I hate to agree with a Sioux Alum on anything other than beating the Gophers but I have to agree 100% with these comments.

    • Well said. I really don’t want to criticize uscho since it is about the only place you can get scores, box scores and game articles from all college conferences every weekend (thanks for that). But yeah, a little more info in the Friday series previews would be great. Doesn’t need to be much, like someone said above, 2-3 paragraphs on each series highlighting important info/stats/notes would be great. I think some people see the Thursday article on one series, and forget about the Friday picks, and that is where a lot of complaints are coming from. But like I said, the Friday article should have more meat in it.

  10. perhaps it would have helped to explain this to people, be up front and clear with what you’re trying to do, rather than launch and work through these issues after the fact while wading through the feedback.

  11. When tickets to these games go for 100 bucks a pop you know it’s a good series. Personally my favorite games of the season, I will be there…go Sioux!


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