This weekend's series between the Minnesota Golden Gophers and the University of North Dakota at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis marked the final regular season series between the two schools as conference archrivals. Both schools will depart the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) at the end of the season. The Gophers will move on to the Big Ten hockey conference and North Dakota will join the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC).
For the record their final scheduled regular season series resulted in a 5-1 Gophers win on Friday and a 4-4 tie on Saturday. The Gophers are tied for first place in the WCHA with St. Cloud St., each school with 22 points in the standings. North Dakota is tied for second place with Nebraska-Omaha (UNO) and Denver University with 20 points each.
The Gophers-North Dakota rivalry dates back 83 years. Both schools have a very rich hockey history with North Dakota claiming seven NCAA championships and the Gophers winning five to date. The all-time series between the two schools, regular season and playoffs is 145 wins for the Gophers, 130 wins for North Dakota and 15 ties. Both schools along with Michigan Tech, Colorado College and Denver were all charter members of the WCHA when it was formed in 1951.
The rivalry between Minnesota and North Dakota has always been marked by debates about how and where the two schools have recruited players. The Gophers have always relied heavily, and exclusively at times, on players from the state of Minnesota. It has been something the university and many of its fans have been very proud of and that pride crosses generations.
North Dakota has traditionally recruited heavily in western Canada as well as northwestern Minnesota. North Dakota was ahead of many other schools in bringing in freshman players as old as age 21. The concept of the 21 year-old freshman is now a common practice for most college hockey teams with junior leagues on both sides of the border allowing players aged 18-20 a couple of extra years to develop physically and sharpen their talents before heading off to college.
The rivalry is also marked by discussions in hockey arenas, offices and workplaces, bar rooms, family rooms, dining rooms and chat rooms about which school's fans are more obnoxious but mostly the rivalry has been marked by games where the intensity level is almost always at a peak and by physical play.
The times are moving on, however. The Big Ten conference has a rule that all of its member schools are required to join the conference in any sport where at least six member schools are participants. When Penn St. agreed to start up a hockey program that gave the Big Ten six member schools playing hockey meaning that the Gophers and the University of Wisconsin Badgers were required to leave the WCHA to join the new Big Ten hockey conference. It also required Big Ten member schools Michigan, Michigan St. and Ohio St. to leave the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) to join.
North Dakota along with Denver, Colorado College, UNO, St. Cloud St. and Minnesota-Duluth (UMD) are leaving the WCHA at season's end to join the newly formed NCHC. Joining them in the new conference will be Miami-Ohio and Western Michigan who will leave the CCHA at season's end.
The bad news for fans of the Minnesota-North Dakota rivalry is that the two schools will not face off against each other in another regular season series until at least the 2016-2017 season. The good news is that these two schools have not only carried on an intense, regular season border battle for 83 years but have also had no trouble at all finding each other in the NCAA tournament over the years.
The rivalry will clearly be interrupted but until they can potentially meet again in a regular season series it is quite possible and even likely that these two long time archrivals will cross paths in the NCAA tournament. If and when they do look for those debates about which school has a richer hockey history, the recruiting practices of both schools and the fun but rather pointless debate about which school has the most obnoxious fan base to pick up right where they left off!