by Dane DeKrey/Staff Writer
I was sitting on Wednesday in the downstairs dining center at the Memorial Union of the University of North Dakota eating supper. Two tables in front of me sat UND senior defenseman, Robbie Bina. As Bina sat alone eating his food, I couldn't help but notice the attention being drawn to him.
"When do you boys leave?" a dining center employee asked him, probably the most modest question of the lot.
"I hope you kick those Gophers' a——," chimed in another, before Bina could answer the first question directed at him.
"You going to score another one on Frazee?" inquired the third in the group, a reference to Bina's incredible full-ice goal last season against Minnesota, which drew laughs from the crowd and what even appeared to be a smirk from Bina.
As Bina attempted to answer the flurry of questions, I tried to make sense of what had just transpired. And what I came up with is this — Grand Forks isn't fooled.
Oh, sure, the papers say the Gophers aren't any good this year. And sure they say the Gophers can't score, and they have no team chemistry, and whatever else the pundits are chirping about this week; but the people of Grand Forks know better.
UND fans, and hopefully UND players, are taking this weekend's series with the Gophers as serious — if not more serious — than they would if the Gophers were undefeated on the year.
Because save for perhaps Michigan-Michigan State and Boston College-Boston University, the North Dakota-Minnesota rivalry is atop college hockey's rivalry food chain. Such a conclusion isn't reached by some complex mathematical formula or a point-counter point discussion, as there are probably dozens of reasons and rationales for which rivalry is best in college hockey.
But if you're talking hockey west of the Mississippi, nothing's bigger than Sioux-Gophers, at least in their fans' minds. Everything about Minnesota is backwards according to North Dakota fans, and vice versa.
Recruiting philosophies — North Dakota and Canada versus Minnesota and Minnesota; figure heads — North Dakota and Dave Hakstol's straight smile versus Minnesota and Don Lucia's flattop; even home ice sheets — North Dakota and decadence versus Minnesota and tradition.
Another driving force behind the importance of this bitter rivalry is that the outcome of this weekend will define the success or failure of Minnesota's season.
If North Dakota leaves the Mariucci at weekend's end with four points, it will be the cherry on top of an utterly disastrous season for the Golden Gophers. Alternatively, if Minnesota beats North Dakota on both Friday and Saturday night, not only will its Pairwise vault exponentially, but, more importantly, so will its pride.
After all, statistical claptrap aside, pride is what matters most between these two teams. Look no further than recent history for proof. Last year, UND used its sweep of Minnesota at the Mariucci as the catalyst for its mind-boggling second-half finish, climaxing with the Fighting Sioux playing in the NCAA Frozen Four for a third year in a row.
If any team is able to light a fire under the seats of the other, it's these two.