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Monday (Gophers vs. North Dakota -- end of an era) edition: Wha' Happened?

Posted by: Michael Rand under Frozen Four, Gophers Updated: January 21, 2013 - 9:31 AM

We have now spent approximately 18 years of our life in Grand Forks and 18 in Minneapolis. The first 18 involved numerous trips to Old Ralph Engelstad Arena (still never been to the new one), exceedingly fond memories of the 1987 UND national title game and admiring those who snuck dead gophers into the arena. In fact, we had a black and white glossy photo in our room for quite some time of a gopher impaled on a hockey stick. This is true.

The past 18 years have involved numerous trips to Mariucci Arena, both in a professional and fan capacity. As a regular rube in the stands, let's just say the allegiance shifted.

The greater point, though, is that we have been uniquely situated in a way to see this rivalry for great lengths of time from both sides. Locally, we have Vikings-Packers. This is the best rivalry we know. Gophers-UND hockey? To us, that is the clear No. 2. And sadly, a major chapter in the rivalry is coming to a close.

This has been written about ad nauseam, but now it is far more real. Minnesota and North Dakota played their final WCHA regular-season series over the weekend. They could meet again in the league playoffs or NCAA playoffs (and in subsequent years in the NCAA playoffs), but these were the last guaranteed meetings for a while -- at least 2016-17, when schedules clear up. Minnesota is, of course, joining the Big Ten for hockey next season. While a decent number of local rivals will still be on the schedule, so will Penn State and Ohio State (as well as Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin). And North Dakota will not be. When you boil that down to its essence, it's a shame that borders on a college hockey travesty.

We were fortunate enough to be at Mariucci for Friday's game. After an extremely lackluster first period, the final two showcased everything good about the rivalry: great goals, plenty of emotion and a fired-up overflow crowd.

We're not sure how time will treat the rivalry -- if the two teams will be ultra-charged during any chance future meetings because they are so rare now or if years will dull the edges and make it just another game. What we're guessing is that it just won't be the same -- and that there is a lingering sadness, as there is with all things when you think about the past and it's better than the future.

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