Gophers-UND produces fitting finish for anticipated game
Grand Forks - Ever since the Minnesota men's hockey team beat
St. Cloud State to reach the NCAA Frozen Four, the buzz started.
North Dakota vs. Minnesota. In the Frozen Four.
Although they weren't scheduled to play this season for the first time since the 1940s, they happened to match up on Thursday night on college hockey's biggest stage.
Naturally, there was a ton of hype for the game, and, not surprisingly, it lived up to its billing.
"Another boring Minnesota-North Dakota game tonight," said a sarcastic Gophers coach Don Lucia, whose team scored the game-winning goal with less than a second remaining.
The 60 minutes featured just about everything necessary for a college hockey classic. There was playmaking, scoring chances, great defensive play, spectacular goaltending and an improbable ending.
The rivalry that already has countless timeless moments added another one when Justin Holl scored a short-handed goal with less than a second remaining to send the Gophers to the national title game tonight against Union (N.Y.).
The game didn't have the feistiness as past matchups. The teams combined for just six penalty minutes - the lowest total between them in at least 15 years.
But the players said that didn't change the rivalry.
"It is a little bit different this year because we haven't played them," Lucia said. "You don't have the same feel of their team, because there wasn't two or four games against them over the course of the season. But we've played some historic games.
"I think one of the things that makes it a great rivalry - I was looking through the notes - is that I've been at Minnesota for 15 years and we're dead even in those 15 years. That's pretty incredible. But that's what makes a rivalry great. And I think even for the fans, because you really don't know who is going to win. There's a little more angst, a little more anxiety going into the game. It gets you a little bit more on edge."
During the tenures of Lucia and UND coach Dave Hakstol, the teams have met in the NCAA tournament four times, going 2-2.
UND won the 2005 Frozen Four semifinal in Columbus, Ohio, 4-2 and beat the Gophers in the 2007 West Regional final 3-2 in overtime.
"You have to enjoy the victories," Lucia said. "I've been on the other side, lost to North Dakota in the regional final in overtime, the WCHA Final Five in overtime. So, I've been on each side of it. It's obviously elation when you win and depressing when you lose."
UND and Minnesota aren't scheduled to meet again in the regular season until 2016-17, when they will play in Mariucci Arena. The following year, the rivalry returns to Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Hakstol has pushed to play the series every year, but hasn't been successful yet.
Schlossman writes for the Grand Forks Herald