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Brad E. Schlossman / Forum Communications Co., Published January 14 2011

Players, coaches realize intensity ratched up a notch for Sioux-Gophers series

GRAND FORKS – University of North Dakota goalie Aaron Dell grew up near Calgary, not knowing anything about the UND-Minnesota rivalry.

It didn’t take him long to learn.

“Gophers week starts early here,” Dell said with a laugh. “Everyone’s been talking about it in my classes. They’ve been talking about getting their white-out shirts. I think everybody is pretty excited.”

It’s time for rivalry and white-out weekend once again.

The Sioux will play the Gophers for the 274th time at 7:37 tonight in Ralph Engelstad Arena. The series has long been sold out. Most ticket scalpers are charging more than $100 for them online – double face value. Many are charging triple face value ($150-plus).

Ralph Engelstad Arena director of booking Chris Semrau said without hesitation that they could sell “easily double” the number of tickets for this series.

While there will be nearly 12,000 on hand each night, not the 25,000-plus that REA thinks it could sell, it might sound like there are that many in the building, anyway.

Minnesota coach Don Lucia has called it “a series for men.”

UND coach Dave Hakstol calls it another intense Western Collegiate Hockey Association weekend.

“This is what it’s all about,” Hakstol said. “You get into WCHA play and you get into these highly intense weekends. We go through these weekends several times a year. To me, it’s a matter of staying within a routine. You don’t alter your week from that.

“To everybody else, there’s a lot of frenzy that comes with this week. To our team, it’s staying with our routine. That’s not a cliché. That’s the way we approach these weekends.”

The approach has worked.

UND has controlled the series recently, posting an 11-4-3 mark in the last 18 meetings. The Sioux ended Minnesota’s season a year ago by beating the Gophers in a first-round playoff series.

In Grand Forks, it has been even more one-sided. The Gophers have just one win in their last seven meetings here. Several of the losses were blowouts.

It hasn’t always been like this, though.

Minnesota won the first-ever game in Ralph Engelstad Arena, rallying for a 7-5 victory in October 2001. A few months later, the Gophers swept the Sioux in a regular-season series in the new building.

That prompted Twin Cities radio hosts to dub Engelstad Arena as “Mariucci West,” a reference to Minnesota’s home arena. The success continued as the Gophers won six of the first nine games in The Ralph.

Then, the 2006 NCAA West Regional happened.

Fourth-seed Holy Cross stunned top-seeded Minnesota 4-3 in overtime in the first round, turning the Gophers’ fortunes in Grand Forks. They are just 2-7-1 in their last 10 games here, including the Holy Cross loss.

Since Penn State announced it was going to add Division I hockey in 2012, all signs have pointed to the formation of a Big Ten Hockey Conference.

If that happens, Minnesota and Wisconsin will leave the WCHA. Would that mean the end of the rivalry between the Sioux and Gophers?

“If the Big Ten happens, and that’s a big if, we’ll probably have an alliance with the WCHA teams,” Lucia said. “It would be very easy for us to play four to five WCHA teams a year, along with other games. There would have to be a willingness on both sides.”

Schlossman writes for the Grand Forks Herald