College Hockey's Top 10 Rivalries
by David Kensa/CHN Correspondent
Florida State-Miami, UNC-Duke, Texas-Oklahoma — these names bring to mind some of the greatest rivalries in college sports. But lets take a moment to focus on our favorite sport — hockey — where none of these names, or rivalries, mean much at all. Here's a quick look at college hockey's top ten Division I rivalries.
10. Alaska-Anchorage vs. Alaska-Fairbanks
Alaska-Anchorage leads all-time series 72-46-9
Distance apart: approx. 360 miles
Not only are UAA and UAF the only Division I hockey programs in Alaska, they're also the only two colleges in the Last Frontier state with any varsity athletics to speak of. That being the case, you'd imagine the intrastate rivalry between these two to be a no-love-lost affair. Each year, the winner of the season series between the Seawolves and the Nanooks is awarded the Alaska Airlines Governor's Cup. UAF has won the last four, a first for either school.
Just how intense is this rivalry in the land of the ice and snow? Chuck Homan, a UAA Seawolves fan and hockey booster since the program's inception in the late-70s, recalls a meeting where things got a little out of hand even before the opening face off.
"We were playing in Fairbanks. During the warm-ups the mascot of UAF — one big Nanook — skated into our zone and as a result he was decked. The fight that followed cleared both benches and held up the game for more than 30 minutes. That gives you an idea of the intensity of the rivalry."
Yes, it does. There's something very Slap Shot about that story. School administrators and the NCAA have since put the breaks on such behavior, but when the puck drops, the UAA-UAF rivalry is as hot as ever.
9. Michigan Tech vs. Northern Michigan
NMU leads 57-43-10
Distance apart: 100 miles
NCAA titles won: Michigan Tech 3, Northern Michigan 1
In recent years, the winner of the series between these archrivals of Michigan's upper peninsula is awarded the Ramada Cup, a trophy sponsored by the hotel chain with locations in both Houghton and Marquette.
"The Northern Michigan game is easily the biggest draw of the year at Tech", said Michigan Tech sports information director Wes Frahm. "It's funny to see the signs and things that students come up with to taunt each other."
One of his recent favorites read, "NMU: the N is for Nowledge." Ouch.
"Over the years, the athletic directors from both schools have challenged each other on certain games," added Bridget Berube, the Assistant Athletic Director of hockey operations at NMU. "They'll pick an upcoming game, and the AD of the losing team will have to walk around the winning team's campus wearing a sandwich board with the score on it. Tech's AD usually wants to pick the football game. I think he deliberately tries to avoid hockey." Uh-oh. Sounds to me like someone's getting called out.
8. Clarkson vs. St. Lawrence
Clarkson leads 103-56-7
Distance apart: 10 miles
ECACHL tournament titles won: SLU 6, Clarkson 4
This rivalry could easily be overlooked since Clarkson and St. Lawrence are two of the smaller institutions playing Division I hockey, but don't get it wrong — the Golden Knights and the Saints have more than a mild dislike for one another. There was a time not long ago when the road to the ECAC hockey league crown ran through the northernmost region of New York State, affectionately known as "the North Country." Clarkson and St. Lawrence Universities — both just a stone's throw from Canada — were the toast of the league. A mere 10-mile strip of Route 11 is all that separates the two campuses.
In one stretch during the 1990s Clarkson managed to rattle off nine straight wins against the Saints. A few sporting Clarkson fans decided to remind all who traveled Route 11 of the fact, posting up signs every few yards — one for each win — and adding to them as the streak grew.
How have St. Lawrence fans returned the favor over the years? Apart from a number of boisterous chants that we can't reprint here, a favorite on the Canton, N.Y., campus are the custom-printed "Cluck Farkson" t-shirts. Saints fans, get one while supplies last.
7. Maine vs. New Hampshire
Maine leads 51-36-5
Distance apart: approx. 165 miles
Hockey East tournament titles won: Maine 5, UNH 2
NCAA titles won: Maine 2, UNH none
The border-battle between these two New England schools is a fairly new one in the grand scheme of things, having begun on December 15, 1979. Since the early-'90s the Black Bears and Wildcats have been heating it up in league and NCAA contention on an almost yearly basis. The rivalry stepped up a notch when the teams faced off against one another in the 1999 NCAA Championship game in Anaheim. Maine walked away with a 3-2 overtime win while UNH was forced to continue its search for that elusive national title. Maine fans have since slapped the Wildcats with the unenviable tag of "UNH: the University of No Hardware."
It was also in 1999 that UNH began its "White out the Whitt" promotion, a now yearly occurrence that takes place when the Wildcats host their next door neighbors at the Whittemore Center. All fans are encouraged to wear white.
"For every game, there's an allotment of tickets for students to purchase that are freed up for the general public if the students don't buy them by game day," said Pete Souris, New Hampshire's assistant director of Media Relations. "That never happens for the Maine game. Those tickets always go, and they always go fast."
And rightfully so, since in any given year, watching these teams play usually means you're watching two of the nation's best.
6. Minnesota vs. North Dakota
Minnesota leads 132-116-11 according to Minnesota, 124-115-11 according to North Dakota
Distance apart: approx. 310 miles
WCHA tournament titles won: Minnesota 12, North Dakota 7
NCAA titles won: North Dakota 7, Minnesota 5
In another fierce border-battle, this time between two Western powerhouses, Minnesota comes out on top in the number of WCHA titles won, while the Fighting Sioux have the upper hand with regards to NCAA championships. To really get a perspective on the magnitude of where these rivals stand in the national picture, just think — one of these two schools has played in the NCAA title game in six of the last nine seasons dating back to 1996-97.
Speaking of title games, the Golden Gophers and Fighting Sioux went head-to-head in one back in 1979. Minnesota won that meeting 4-3, claiming their third NCAA title. No worries for the Sioux, though. They'd have plenty more opportunities.
Any PETA supporters reading this may want to skip this next part. Lore has it that, in the distant past, some more dynamic Sioux fans have gone to the extent of throwing dead gophers onto the ice as a welcome to the visiting Minnesota squad. From what I gather, this was a limited practice that has long since been shunned by University of North Dakota.
"The students have some interesting ways of expressing themselves during a big game," said Dan Benson, North Dakota's director of athletic media relations. "The dead gopher-tossing was something that happened a long time ago, long before I began working here. The school quickly put a stop to that kind of behavior."
And it's a good thing they did. It's all fun and games until somebody gets a dead gopher in the eye. Fortunately, no gophers were harmed in the writing of this article.
5. Cornell vs. Harvard
Cornell leads 63-51-7
Distance apart: approx. 275 miles
ECACHL tournament titles won: Cornell 10, Harvard 7
NCAA titles won: Cornell 2, Harvard 1
The only two Ivy league programs with NCAA Championship banners hanging in their rafters, Cornell and Harvard have built a bitter rivalry, the outcome of which usually factors heavily into who takes home the ECACHL tournament trophy. In recent years one school or the other, and sometimes both, have found themselves representing the ECACHL in the NCAA tournament.
"The Cornell game is always the biggest game on our schedule," said Chuck Sullivan, sports information director at Harvard. "It's a packed house every time."
This writer can personally attest to that statement, as I've been to a couple of these matchups, the most recent being a standing room-only affair at the Bright Center in February of 2003. On one of the coldest New England nights in recent memory a few busloads of Cornell fans bundled up and made the long trek to Cambridge to watch their team skate to a 4-3 victory. At another Cornell-Harvard game I attended in the '90s, I witnessed one of the funniest things I've ever heard at any college sports event. After taking an early lead, the visiting Cornell section berated the Harvard goalie with a rousing chant of "sieve, sieve, sieve!" The Harvard student section quickly responded, repeating "safety school" until the Cornell section had been subdued. Too funny.
Here's another interesting tradition involving projectiles — when playing the Crimson at home in Ithaca, Cornell's "Lynah faithful" throw dead fish onto the ice during Harvard's introduction. It's a tradition that's not exactly appreciated by the school's administration, but that hasn't stopped the avalanche of seafood raining down from the student section. According to Cornell lore, the fish-throwing was instigated by Harvard when, after a 5-2 loss to the Big Red in January of 1973 in Cambridge, a Harvard fan walked up to the glass and threw a dead chicken at Cornell goalie Dave Ellenbaas. The chicken reference was meant as a poke at Cornell's school of Agriculture. When Harvard made the trip to Lynah Rink for the rematch a few weeks later, the Lynah Faithful responded by pelting the Harvard players with fish during the warm up. A few ambitious Cornell students even managed to sneak onto the ice during the intermission and tie a live chicken to the Harvard net. Fast-forward over 30 years and these two still love to slug it out, with the "fish-toss" remaining a cherished tradition for Big Red fans to this day.
4. Colorado College vs. Denver
Denver leads 148-99-8
Distance apart: approx. 65 miles
WCHA tournament titles won: Denver 13, CC 1
NCAA titles won: Denver 7, CC 2
These intra-state rivals not only play for conference position, bragging rights and pride, but also Gold. A Gold Pan, that is. Since the 1993-94 season the winner of this season series takes home a dinged-up old mining pan lovingly referred to as the Gold Pan trophy. CC kept the Pan in Colorado Springs six years in a row until the 2003-04 season when the Pioneers brought it to Denver. Denver not only held on to the prize in 2004-05 by tying CC in the season series, they beat the Tigers in the WCHA title game, and again in the NCAA Frozen Four in Columbus.
The CC-Denver rivalry, one of the longest in our top ten, began 56 years ago and has tallied over 250 games. Colorado College head coach Scott Owens remembers his time in goal for the Tigers in a game at archrival Denver, seeking protection from the very net it was his job to protect.
"The student section at Denver's old arena was way up at one end, overlooking the visiting goalie's net for two periods, and I used to get all sorts of stuff thrown down at me from there. During one game, I spent the entire third period, when the puck was in their end, backed into the net to avoid getting hit."
Hopefully there where no animals involved this time around.
"At another game," added Owens, "someone let about 100 live mice loose on the ice. It may have been closer to fifty, but it seemed like 100. The game was held up for about 20 minutes while everyone scurried around trying to catch them."
You know someone in Denver's research lab was pissed. Any retaliation?
"At a game at the Broadmoor Arena, one of our fans released a black swan on the ice. I'm not sure what it was supposed to signify exactly, but it was pretty funny. You know how college kids are. Always trying to do some crazy stunt."
Well, at least that stunt didn't take as long to corral.
3. Michigan vs. Michigan State
Michigan leads 124-112-14
Distance apart: 50 miles
CCHA tournament titles won: MSU 10, UM 6
NCAA titles won: UM 9, MSU 2
These two Big Ten Conference powerhouses have fought for bragging rights of the Great Lakes State for over a century. Up for grabs is the Pontiac Challenge Cup, a trophy awarded three times a year to the winner of the fall, winter and spring sports sessions between the Wolverines and Spartans. The school that wins the overall head-to-head competition each session takes home the hardware. Thanks in part to Michigan's hockey team having bested the Spartans 2-1-1 in the 2004-05 season, the Cup has yet to reside in East Lansing. The Wolverines have won all sessions and kept the trophy in Ann Arbor since it's inception in 2003.
On a more historic note, the two schools are also known for playing the "Cold War" game on October 6, 2001, at Michigan State's Spartan Stadium. 74,554 spectators — the largest crowd ever assembled for a hockey game, college or pro — packed Spartan Stadium to watch an event for the record books. Playing on an ice surface built in the middle of the football field, the Wolverines and Spartans duked it out for three and OT, ending in a 3-3 tie.
2. Minnesota vs. Wisconsin
Minnesota leads 142-75-15 according to Wisconsin, 142-74-15 according to Minnesota
Distance apart: approx. 224 miles
WCHA tournament titles won: Minnesota 12, Wisconsin 11
NCAA titles won: Minnesota 5, Wisconsin 5
Not only one of the greatest rivalries in college sports, but sports in general, the Gophers-Badgers hockey rivalry is the stuff of legend. However, it wasn't until the 1970s, under the legendary coaching reigns of Bob Johnson at Wisconsin and Herb Brooks at Minnesota, that things got really hot. During that decade, Minnesota won the NCAA title three times under Brooks, in 1974, '76 and '79, while Bob Johnson's Wisconsin teams won in 1973, and '77. We're all very familiar with what Herb Brooks would accomplish with the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" team after leaving Minnesota. Bob Johnson would continue coaching at Wisconsin until 1981-82, adding one more title to his credit in 1981 when the two schools met head-to-head in the NCAA championship game in Duluth. The Badgers traveled back across the state line with a 6-3 win and a championship trophy, leaving a trail of disappointed Gopher fans in their wake.
"Essentially, what's at stake are major bragging rights in one of the most hotly contested border battles in all of sports," said Badger fan Brad Ostermann. "I'd say the UW-UM rivalry is even bigger than the Packers-Vikings. They can take their 10,000 lakes and shove 'em! Go Badgers!"
In addition to bragging rights, this long-standing rivalry now comes complete with its own hardware. Similar to the Michigan-Michigan State Challenge Cup, as of the 2004-05 season the Border Battle Cup is awarded to the school taking home the most points in head-to-head competition of 11 sports. Wisconsin won the inaugural year's competition, though the Gophers beat them in hockey with a 3-1 overall season record. Also similar to the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry, Wisconsin will host Ohio State in the second major hockey game to be played outdoors on a football field in the United States. In February of 2006 the Badgers will play the Buckeyes on Green Bay's Lambeau Field, with a seating capacity of 71,000. I'm sure it'll be a great draw, but one has to wonder why Wisconsin doesn't bestow the honor of such a landmark game on their archrivals, the Gophers. Seems like a no-brainer to me.
1. Boston College vs. Boston University
BU leads 114-98-15
Distance apart: 4 miles
Hockey East tournament titles won: BC 5, BU 5
NCAA titles won: BU 4, BC 2
BC-BU. That's all you have to say to get hockey fans on either side of this dividing line ready to rumble. The two schools are separated by about 4 miles of Boston's Commonwealth Avenue, just a few stops on the 'B' train of the Boston MTA's Green line. Fanning the fire of this rivalry is the fact that both programs have more than made their mark on the national stage. Both the Eagles and the Terriers have appeared in numerous NCAA tournaments and Frozen Fours. Both are lead by coaching legends that rank among the top in career wins. Both schools attract blue-chip talent and have landed several of their players in the pro ranks. Both have the word 'Boston' in their name.
One signature game in this rivalry is undoubtedly the head-to-head meeting in the 1978 NCAA championship game in nearby Providence, RI. BU came away with a 5-3 win and took home their third NCAA title. Enthusiasm for that meeting must have been high on both benches, but as famed BU co-captain and former 1980 Olympic Gold Medal winner Jack O'Callahan once said, a National Championship need not be at stake for the Terriers to get excited to play BC. The two teams meeting on a frozen pond in Dorchester would be enough.
Enhancing the rivalry is Boston's annual Beanpot tournament. Although the tourney is a chance for the city's four Division I programs — which also include Harvard and Northeastern — to slug it out and determine city bragging rights, a primary focus has often been on the meetings between BC and BU. Even Sports Illustrated senior writer Steve Rushin made it the subject of his "Air and Space" column this past January, going as far as to call it the greatest rivalry in sports. All in all, BU has managed to win 26 titles in the tournaments' 53-year history while BC comes in a distant second with twelve. As such, the "BU Invitational", as some refer to it, has been a tough pill for BC fans to swallow over the years. Although the Eagles have put some amazingly talented teams on the ice — many ranked higher than BU nationally and in league play — the Terriers have still managed to come away with the prize more often than not. As a BC alum, I can assure you that I've cursed at my television many a time after watching my Eagles sleepwalk through a lackluster performance against the Terriers at the Fleet Center. Many of my friends can attest to the times I've sworn off of caring about the Beanpot ever again. But come February I can't help but tune in to see if they'll make me proud or break my heart.
Though the dislike these fans hold for each other is legendary, there are moments when a little respect shines through. And then, just as quickly as it comes, it's gone. BU alum Mike Casey recalls one game from the early '90s.
"It was (then-BC head Coach) Len Ceglarski's last game at Walter Brown Arena. The place was at capacity, as is usual for any game against BC. Coach (Jack) Parker and the BU staff had taken a moment to honor Ceglarski before the start of the game. As much as we hate BC, we respect them as rivals and were showing coach Ceglarski our respect with the appropriate applause when, suddenly, someone started the chant. 'Go BU! Beat BC! They suck sh*t!' Then it grew. I swear, if there were 3700 people in that building, 3500 of them were shouting it, over and over."
Dick Kelley, BC's Assistant Athletic Director of Media Relations, added some insight on why the rivalry runs so hot.
"It really is an intense and passionate rivalry. We're talking about two schools less than five miles apart, both lead by two of the winningest active coaches in college hockey. To top that off, both coaches are alumni of the teams they coach, grew up in the Boston area, and even played against each other in college. It really is a great story."
That it is.
"I think the rivalry is looked at a bit differently at BC than it is at BU," said Brent Gamit, a BC grad living in New York City. "Overall, they probably hate us a lot more than we do them. At BC, when it comes to hockey, BU is enemy number one — no doubt. But when it comes to our other sports, the hatred towards the Terriers diminishes. We could care less about them in basketball. They're not in the same league, literally or figuratively, so they don't really register on our radar. We were more concerned with beating UConn, Syracuse and Georgetown. And when it comes to football, it's all about beating Notre Dame. BU doesn't even have a team anymore."
A pretty accurate assessment from the BC-side of things. Your typical Eagle fan's level of scorn for the Terriers depends on the sport in question. But when the pucks hit the ice, it's all about hating BU.
In limiting this list to rivalries in American college hockey, I've excluded one last intense rivalry that bears mention — Army vs. the Canadian Royal Military College (RMC)
This rivalry got its start when, in 1921, Gen. Douglas MacArthur wrote a letter to RMC's Commandant Maj. Gen. Sir Archibald MacDonnell suggesting the two military colleges meet in competition. Two years later in 1923, a team from RMC traveled to West Point for the first historic game. Labeled "the oldest continuous international rivalry in sports", Army and RMC have met every year since 1949.
There you have it, folks. The Hatfields and McCoys of college hockey. In the spirit of all the great rivalries across the land, here's hoping that fans of all the teams mentioned can look forward to many, many more seasons of despising one another.