On North Dakota hockey game nights, the line forms outside the door at Joe Black’s Bar & Grill in Grand Forks.
Fans wearing green and white jerseys come for the 154-inch projection screen, the sound system with the game broadcast, and the air horn behind the bar that bellows after each Fighting Hawks goal.
But the only sound was silence on April 10, 2014, when Justin Holl scored with 0.6 seconds remaining to lift the Gophers over North Dakota in the Frozen Four semifinals.
“We had our hearts ripped out of our chests,” said Joe Schneider, the bar’s owner. “I think it rubbed extra salt in the wound that it was the Gophers.”
The rivalry has delivered epic moments like that for both teams, and Friday night, it returns to Grand Forks for the first time in six seasons.
North Dakota fans won’t have to watch their beloved team play the hated Gophers on TV. They’ll pack 11,640-seat Ralph Engelstad Arena, where single-game tickets for this two-game series cost $99 apiece.
The Gophers charged $70-$90 per ticket last season, when North Dakota made its first visit to Mariucci Arena since 2013. The teams delivered two more nail biters — a 5-5 tie and a 2-0 Minnesota victory.
But the rivals have been in separate conferences since the 2013-14 season — Minnesota in the Big Ten, North Dakota in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. So Fighting Hawks fans have waited for what feels like an eternity to get the Gophers back at the Ralph.
“I just think in Grand Forks, it’s a bigger game for us,” Schneider said. “Hockey is the No. 1 sport here, by far, for popularity. We just really are an impassioned fan base.”
Grant Potulny is a Grand Forks native who crossed the border to become a three-time Gophers captain. He said the feeling that comes over his hometown during this rivalry week is “like you’re going to the Rose Bowl in Big Ten football” with the “wall-to-wall coverage.”
None of the players, on either side, has been through a Minnesota/UND game in Grand Forks, but Gophers coach Don Lucia has told players what to expect.
“Your cellphone number might be printed by a student in the stands,” Lucia said, smiling. “There might be a dead gopher on the ice. There might be somebody behind our bench asking how [number] 12 got on our team. That’s the fun part.”
Lucia brought his first Minnesota team to Grand Forks in January 2000. He’ll never forget when the bus pulled up to old Ralph Engelstad Arena.
“The good thing now is they can’t pelt us with snowballs; it hasn’t snowed yet,” Lucia said. “I go back to the old Ralph; that was my first experience. It was like, ‘OK, we’ve got to gun it’ — boom, boom, boom, boom, crash — probably a pint bottle mixed in with the snowball.”
Lucia wants his players to embrace the atmosphere, knowing this will be the only trip most of them make to Grand Forks. The Gophers and North Dakota will play in Las Vegas next October. They meet the following season in Minneapolis before returning to North Dakota during the 2020-21 season.
Wild forward Zach Parise had a glint in his eye this week, recalling his two years playing in the rivalry for North Dakota. He said one of his most memorable college games was the 2004 WCHA title game — a 5-4 UND loss, when Potulny scored the game-winner.
“There is such an electricity in the building,” Parise said. “The teams just generally don’t like each other.”
Parise said “don’t even get me started” about the rivals playing in separate conferences.
“Honestly,” he said, “it just took away the whole luster in my opinion, not only that series but college hockey itself.”
The rivalry dates to 1930, with Minnesota leading the all-time series 147-130-16. YouTube is filled with the greatest hits. Neal Broten scored the game-winner from his stomach when the Gophers clipped North Dakota for the 1979 NCAA title. Blake Wheeler pulled off his own goal-from-the-stomach miracle, in overtime, to give Minnesota the 2007 WCHA title.
Eight days after the Wheeler goal, the teams met in the NCAA tournament, and Chris Porter ended Minnesota’s season with a wraparound goal, in overtime.
Then there’s the fisticuffs. These teams have brawled right in the middle of the postgame handshake line.
Potulny, who spent eight years as a Gophers assistant coach, said some wondered if the rivalry would be the same heading into last season’s series.
“It didn’t disappoint,” said Potulny, now the head coach at Northern Michigan. “I mean, within about two shifts, [Gophers defenseman] Ryan Lindgren and [then-Fighting Hawks captain Gage Ausmus] are going at each other. There’s a fight within three minutes of the game starting, so I don’t expect anything different this weekend.”