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Brad E. Schlossman / Forum Communications Co. , Published November 16 2012

Gophers-UND men's hockey series to go on a hiatus

GRAND FORKS – One of the longest-standing college hockey rivalries in the country is about to go on a hiatus.

Next season, for the first time in 65 years, the University of North Dakota and Minnesota will not play against each other, and no future matchups are currently scheduled after the teams meet this January.

The teams are about to move into separate conferences for the first time ever – UND to the National Collegiate Hockey Conference and Minnesota to the Big Ten – and nonconference scheduling has hit a stalemate.

If UND coach Dave Hakstol has his way, the rivalry will be back on in short order. He has an available slot in 2015-16 for the teams to play – possibly even in a showcase, tournament or Hall of Fame Game – and he has set aside slots for Minnesota in 2016-17 and 2017-18.

UND kept dates for 2013-14 and 2014-15 open in hopes that there would be no break in the rivalry, but there was no agreement. UND is now full for next season and has just one slot open in 2014-15. Hakstol will likely fill that soon.

“It’s a heated rivalry, but it’s a great rivalry,” Hakstol said. “I know from feedback from fans on both sides that it’s very important to them and I think we want to keep that going.”

Minnesota coach Don Lucia has said in the past that he may not want to play the rivalry every year.

“We will go back there as a nonconference team,” Lucia said at a media gathering in January. “We have a great rivalry. Sometimes, it gets a little over the top and I’m not sure that is healthy for anybody. So we will continue to play, but I doubt we will continue to play each and every year.”

Should UND and Minnesota schedule future nonconference games, it could potentially be a home-and-home series each year, where the teams would play in Grand Forks one night and in Minneapolis two nights later (or vice versa).

But there’s no indication when that may come. Minnesota reportedly has signed to play future nonconference games against the Minnesota state schools, Notre Dame and Boston College.

UND, meanwhile, plans to continue scheduling regional rivals and nationally prominent teams, whether Minnesota is lined up or not.

Beginning next season, UND will play Bemidji State home-and-home as it did when the teams were in different leagues. UND also will travel to Boston University on the back end of an agreement with the Terriers that started this year.

UND has lined up four series with Wisconsin (2014-15 through 2017-18) and two series with Michigan State and Vermont. Providence and Northern Michigan are scheduled to come to The Ralph in the near future.

But there’s no doubt the schedule will look strange without Minnesota.

There’s only been one year of UND hockey where the team didn’t play against the Gophers. That was the inaugural year of 1947-48, when UND played just 13 games against the likes of Grand Forks Legion, Fargo Flyers, Crookston Catholic High, Northwest Ag College and the Bottineau Independents.

UND and Minnesota first met Jan. 23, 1948 and have been doing so every year since then, creating arguably the top rivalry in college hockey. The games routinely sell out in a couple of minutes, have a wild atmosphere and are spotlighted nationally.

“The rivalry, tradition and history is important,” Hakstol said.

Schlossman writes for the Grand Forks Herald