The Rivalry Continues
by Tom Reale/CHN Correspondent
ST. PAUL, Minn. Past results don't always indicate the future. Just ask North Dakota.
In mid-January, the Fighting Sioux stormed into Minneapolis for a pair of games against the hated Minnesota Golden Gophers. The Gophers had just come off a long unbeaten streak of 23 games, and were looking to rebound with yet another long one.
North Dakota had other ideas. The Sioux, quite frankly, stomped the Gophers in back-to-back games at Mariucci Arena, including a 7-3 beating which featured a length-of-the-ice goal by Robbie Bina which will surely be played over and over again, right up there with the lacrosse-style goal of Mike Legg in the 1996 NCAA Regionals, not only in the minds of Gopher haters, but college hockey fans everywhere.
The Sioux had breezed through three playoff games, putting down Minnesota State with relative ease before blasting St. Cloud State in the semifinal.
The Gophers coughed and sputtered down the stretch, requiring three tight games with last-place Alaska-Anchorage just to make it to "the X." They had to mount a comeback against Wisconsin for the right to play in the title game.
Advantage Sioux, right?
"They certainly played a heck of a game," said coach Dave Hakstol. "It was everything it was built up to be."
After dropping the 3-2 decision in overtime, it was apparent that North Dakota could indeed be stopped, and it didn't have to be by some team that had been playing equally amazing hockey in the recent past.
"It's definitely disappointing right now," said sophomore Ryan Duncan. "It was a great game for both teams, we both played very hard, they just made one more play than us, and that's just the way things go sometimes."
After opening the season with a sub-.500 record before the December break, many were writing off North Dakota.
In the future, it may just be better to remember an easy rule of thumb: never write off North Dakota.
"More than anything, we came together as a group," said Taylor Chorney. "We had a tough series against Michigan Tech [in mid-December, just before the holiday break], and we had a little meeting after that. We decided that from then on, we were going to just do whatever it took. Every day since then, we've laid it on the line, and we've done a lot to get better, but there have still been a lot of ups and downs, and this is obviously a down for us."
Certainly, there have been a lot more ups than downs. The loss on Saturday night was only their third since that ill-fated home series against Tech.
But how different was the game from the initial clash in the Twin Cities?
"It was a similar type of game," said Duncan. "We were just more fortunate to pop a couple more in that series. We had our chances tonight — I didn't think our scoring opportunities were that far off.
"I think at that point in the season, they were going through a rougher time. Over the last couple of weeks they've been moving themselves back toward where they were in the beginning of the season."
They'd come into the game against St. Cloud as a lower seed but as the favorite in the eyes of most observers. They'd done the same against Minnesota , and yet it was the Golden Gophers skating away victorious, with hardware.
"You take something away from every game," said Hakstol. "This was an experience night for us."
And just a year removed from hoisting the Broadmoor themselves, the team was forced to experience their rivals celebrated with the trophy they came to St. Paul to bring back to Grand Forks.
Is another meeting in the works?
"It was a bitter pill to swallow when we saw them lift the Broadmoor Trophy," said Duncan. "Hopefully we can use that for motivation. We'll take some positives out of this game, but we won't forget. Maybe we'll get a chance to see them again, and it should be a great game."
That meeting could come as soon as next week. Stay tuned ...