As the Gophers await their sixth national title, here's most of a Strib column I wrote before the national final four at the Civic Center in 1989. It would be kind to use "tortured'' to describe the satire:

A HALF-DOZEN YEARS AGO,  the University of Minnesota hockey team was preparing to start its league playoffs. A hand-drawn sign appeared on the door to the locker room. It read: "Welcome front-runners. This is the home of the No. 1 hockey team in the nation."

The Gophers should look in the crannies of their locker room to see if they can find that sign. Now that Minnesota has reached this week's national finals at the St. Paul Civic Center, the media front-runners are going to come crawling out of the woodwork.

No doubt, these Marky-come-latelys will figure they can show up at Gopherville and push aside those of us who have devoted our weekends - Saturday after Friday, year after year - to covering the "fastest game in town." By the way, if I'm not mistaken, it was me who coined that phrase.

There were no Markies in sight a few years back, on that marvelous night when the arena was renamed in honor of the Godfather of Minnesota hockey, the noblest Roman of them all, the one and only Gary Gambucci.

Where were those front-runners then? Where were they last weekend? Hanging out at the Dome or in New Jersey, watching basketball? Hanging out in Orlando, watching the Twins? We know where they weren't. I know those front-runners weren't with me, sitting in the theater seats and enjoying the wonderful sightlines at Gambucci Arena.

I know they weren't watching the Gophers battle in Gambucci's famous tight corners with their archrivals, the Iowa Hawkeyes, for a berth in the national semifinals.

These front-runners . . . they make me sick.

They'll follow the Gophers basketball team to North Carolina and New Jersey. They'll follow the Gophers football team to Shreveport. But have they ever stepped a foot inside of Dane County Coliseum in Iowa City to watch the Gophers and the Hawkeyes fly up and down the ice for 60 minutes?

I'll never forget those raucous nights in the '70s, when the determined fellow from the West End of St. Paul, Bob Brooke, would take his Gophers into Iowa City for a weekend series against his hated adversary, Hawkeye Herb Johnson.

Hawkeye Herb went to the NHL and then, a couple of years ago, resigned his coaching position and went into hiding. Brooke became a national hero when he coached the U.S. Olympic hockey team to a gold medal.

I don't know about the front-runners, but I'm not too proud to admit that tears welled in my eyes the night our boys beat the Chinese in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. Two days later, the red, white and blue gang beat the Norwegians, and the gold was ours. Who will ever forget goalie Craig Eruzione skating around the ice, draped in the Stars and Stripes?

There is a comradeship among those of us who gather regularly in venerable Gambucci Arena. You know what we have here? A family affair, that's what.

Imagine, three brothers from a small town in northwest. Minnesota - the Brotens from Baudette - coming to the big city to star for the Gophers. And how about the three Michelettis from down
Rochester way, all doing the same?

Despite the consistent success, the Gophers hockey zealots, all of us, have been overcome with a slightly empty feeling the past few winters. The crusty old West Ender, Brooke, led us to three national championships. The last was in 1979. A decade later, we're waiting for No. 4.

Last weekend's two-game sweep of the hated Hawkeyes carried the Gophers into the national semifinals for the fourth time in The Wooger's four seasons. For the uninitiated, The Wooger is coach Brad Woog, a salt-of-the-earth guy, raised and still lives near the Galleria in Edina. We all call him The Wooger when we're hanging out together on road trips in places like Milwaukee, Fargo and Lincoln, Neb.

Anyway, The Wooger's spunky lads have lost in the semifinals for three straight years. It's not going to happen this time. The Gophers have too much on-ice leadership to fall short again. Up front, they have scoring stars Willie Chorske and Melvin Snuggerud, and there is the ncomparable goalie, Bobby Stauber, to backstop the defense. A year ago, as a sophomore, Stauber received the Dobie Gillis Award as the outstanding collegiate hockey player in the country.

As a fellow who has spent a lot of time around The Wooger and his players, I can tell you this: Bobby would trade the Dobie and the Gophers would trade in the two consecutive McLaughlin Bowls they have earned as conference champions . . . they would trade everything for a
chance to dance across the ice at the Civic Center.

And when it happens, I'll be there, with the rest of the front-runners.

FOOTNOTES: The Gophers lost to Harvard in the 1989 final in the best collegiate hockey game I’ve ever seen. The "Markies'' joke was aimed at Mark Rosen and a short-time TV guy here, Mark Curtis. And the arena referred to is the old Mariucci (and Williams before that) ... now the Sports Pavilion.

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