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Brad E. Schlossman / Forum News Service , Published January 17 2013

End of UND-Gophers men's hockey rivalry saddens former players

GRAND FORKS – When the University of North Dakota and the University of Minnesota play in men’s hockey, anything can happen. It’s a lesson some of John Marks’ teammates found out the hard way in 1968.

The teams played in the final game before Christmas in a tournament in Bloomington, Minn. UND players scheduled flights after the game to return home for break.

“The game ended up going five overtimes and most of the guys missed their flights,” Marks said.

The rivalry has produced many improbable, bizarre, intense and thrilling moments over the years. But this weekend is the last chance for them to do so as members of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.

At the end of this season, the Minnesota Gophers will move to the Big Ten. UND will move to the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. And there are no future matchups scheduled.

After playing for 65 consecutive years, the teams will not play in the regular season during each of the next two years.

“It’s very disappointing,” said Jay Panzer, who played for UND from 1995 to 1999.

“Say what you want about different rivalries, the intensity of that one is on a completely different level. Until you’ve played in that game, you don’t understand it. It’s one thing to drive by the old Ralph and see people waiting in line in tents to get in. Once you actually get on that sheet of ice in front of those fans, it brings a whole new meaning to what a rivalry is.”

Marks, now the head coach of the United States Hockey League’s Fargo Force, said he thinks the games should still be played every year.

“It’s disappointing that they may not play each other for three or four years,” Marks said. “I know they are moving into different conferences and this and that, but boy oh boy is it hard to reproduce the history with another team like the Sioux and Gophers have had over the years.”

The series goes back to January 1948 when UND and Minnesota played a two-game set in Grand Forks. A couple of years later, John Mayasich arrived on campus in Minneapolis and got his first taste of the rivalry.

Mayasich’s teams went 9-6-1 against UND during his career from 1951 to 1955. Mayasich, Minnesota’s all-time leading scorer, said he’s not overly excited about the changes.

“I’m disappointed,” Mayasich said. “Every game against them was always a toss-up, be it at home or away. It was just great hockey and memorable games. It was a fantastic rivalry when I played and it still is today. I think there’s an overall disappointment but nothing you can do about it.”

Both programs acknowledge that the rivalry will happen again at some point, and the former players say that’s the way it should be.

“I was just thinking about that the other day, and it’s too bad that they aren’t playing,” said former UND defenseman Marc Chorney, who played from 1977 to 1981. “Even though they are going to be in different conferences, they should schedule each other every year. It’s unfortunate that they’re not playing.”

With the teams taking a break from the rivalry, it begs the question: Will it ever be the same?

Most rivalries in college athletics are between teams in the same leagues. There are a few exceptions, such as Florida-Florida State and Iowa-Iowa State. But those teams play every year.

“It’s hard to say (what will happen),” Panzer said. “I would think that the less frequent you play, it will take away some of the intensity. Denver wasn’t much of a rivalry when I was playing, but it seems to be becoming one because of a bunch of incidents.”

UND senior Danny Kristo, who grew up in Gopher Country in Eden Prairie, Minn., said he thinks the players are getting cheated out of a great experience.

“I feel bad for some of the young guys committed here and at Minnesota that they aren’t going to be able to take a part in that rivalry,” Kristo said. “But leagues are changing and times are changing and you can’t do anything about it. Hopefully, four years from now, it will still be going strong.”

Pat Micheletti, Minnesota’s second-leading all-time scorer, said he thinks the rivalry will stay strong.

“I don’t think it will ever leave,” said Micheletti, who played from 1982 to 1986. “I don’t want to use the word hatred. … I’ll say the mutual respect by the fans and by the two schools is such that, any time they play, it will be the biggest game – for either team.”

And Micheletti, whose daughter currently plays soccer at UND, has a sneaking suspicion that it won’t be three or four years before UND plays again.

“They’ll meet in an NCAA regional in the next two or three years,” he said. “Both teams recruit well. Both have great staffs. It will just build up that much more enthusiasm for when they meet in the playoffs. As hard as it is to see, you have to hope that this will eventually be good for college hockey and grow college hockey.

“And you will really appreciate it when they go against each other.”


Schlossman writes for the Grand Forks Herald