MINNEAPOLIS — When Penn State faces the Minnesota Gophers on the football field this weekend, there is more than a pair of undefeated records on the line.
Starting in 1993, when the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten, the winner of their head-to-head meetings with the Gophers has gotten to take home the Governor’s Victory Bell, which is the least-known of the traveling trophies the U of M fights for on the gridiron. Paul Bunyan’s Axe (Wisconsin), the Little Brown Jug (Michigan) and Floyd of Rosedale (Iowa) certainly grab more headlines in the world of regional sports trophies.
The Gopher hockey team travels to Michigan this weekend for an otherwise nondescript Big Ten series between a pair of 3-4-1 teams. But there’s a traveling trophy on the line at Yost Ice Arena as well. Although its current location is unknown.
In the 1990s, when Minnesota and Wisconsin were in the WCHA while Michigan and Michigan State played in the CCHA, an annual Thanksgiving weekend round robin between the four Big Ten schools (that conference did not sponsor hockey at the time) was begun. The College Hockey Showcase was originally played at neutral sites like Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena, Milwaukee’s Bradley Center and the St. Paul Civic Center. It was later moved to campus sites, but the event endured for two decades, until all four teams began Big Ten hockey play in 2013.
In conjunction with the renewal of the Gophers’ rivalry with the Wolverines and Spartans (all three teams were members of the WCHA until 1981), the schools established traveling trophies, named for the hockey programs’ most renowned hockey coaches.
Last season, Michigan State won three of four games with the Gophers, and currently holds the Mariucci/Bessone Trophy, which honors Gophers coach John Mariucci and Spartans coach Amo Bessone. But the Gophers went 2-1-1 versus Michigan in the regular season last season, and earned possession for the Mariucci/Renfrew Trophy, named for legendary Wolverines coach Al Renfrew.
Here’s the trouble: In January 2018, the Wolverines swept the Gophers in Minneapolis to claim the trophy, and tweeted out a picture of their team crowded around the prize in a hallway inside 3M Arena at Mariucci. Last season, when the Gophers won it back, they were told that the folks in the Michigan hockey office can’t currently locate the trophy. The mystery of the missing hardware hasn’t dampened the Gophers’ enthusiasm for the weekend.
“We want to win all the trophies we can this year, and that’s one of them,” Gophers junior forward Brannon McManus said. “We’ll work for it.”
In the last decade, there have been two traveling trophies contested among Minnesota’s five Division I teams that have come and gone.
In the 2010s the DQ Cup was battled for over the course of a few years. Since there are not equal numbers of games each season between Bemidji State, Minnesota, Minnesota Duluth, Minnesota State Mankato and St. Cloud State, the DQ Cup winner was determined by a complicated and confusing system by which one game in a weekend series between the Gophers and Bulldogs, for example, would count in the cup standings and another would not. It was last won by the Gophers in 2009 before the idea was quietly dropped. Nobody claims to know the current whereabouts of the trophy.
The Bulldogs won the last North Star College Cup in 2017. It was a trophy awarded to the winner of a weekend tournament, similar to the Beanpot in Boston, where four of the state’s five Division I teams would meet at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Gophers coach Bob Motzko’s teams won both the DQ Cup and the North Star College Cup once during his time at St. Cloud State. He said the traveling trophies aren’t generally mentioned as incentive prior to a meeting with a rival, but can add to the fun after a big win.
“I think it means more after you win it. You bring it in the locker room and the guys go, ‘Oh, there’s a trophy?’ They think it’s cool and it gives them something to talk about the next year,” Motzko said. “They’re fun. There’s really only one trophy you’re shooting for. But in conference play, there’s some fun stuff you can do with it.”
If only they could find it.