The Gophers and North Dakota will play each other for the last time as WCHA rivals on Friday and Saturday at Mariucci. And if you don't have a ticket yet, good luck getting one.
Gophers coach Don Lucia said all the standing-room tickets for Saturday's game -- about 700, 800 -- have been sold already. So Mariucci will be filled to the brim.
And why not?
These strong rivals will not meet in the regular season again until the 2016-17 season, according to what Gophers coach Don Lucia said on his weekly radio show on Monday.
"We are going to get them the first available opportunity back on our schedule," Lucia said.
That opportunity won't come until the 2016-17 season. Yikes. Of course, they could meet in the NCAA tournament, but that's not a given.
Next season the Gophers will be in the new six-team Big Ten Conference, UND in the new eight-team National Collegiate Hockey Conference.
Lucia said the Gophers couldn't schedule North Dakota as a nonconference opponent because, at the time the current agreements were being made, UND still had an American Indian nickname. (The U of M has a policy prohibiting its teams from playing nonconference opponents with such nicknames. Now, of course, UND has dropped its Fighting Sioux nickname.)
So the Gophers scheduled Notre Dame for the next three seasons -- Lucia's alma mater and the team his son Mario, a freshman, plays for -- and Boston College and/or Northeastern for four years.
After the Notre Dame contract runs out, UND will be back on the U's radar.
"We pretty much have it worked out, when Notre dame drops off, [North Dakota will play] the first year here, then we will go up to North Dakota," Lucia said.
"i would not mind seeing a scenario we play them two [years], then take two off. Definitely, every four years [we'll be] in each other's building."
Once in four years???
"That probably a pretty good win situation for everybody," Lucia said. "I think we do need to play, it is an important rivalry. ... We not have room to play that series each and every year with out commitment to in-state schools. ... [But] it could all change in three, four years."
The Big Ten could add teams, Lucia said.
As things stand now, he said, the Gophers have a 20-game conference schedule, plus eight nonconference games against the other four Division I in-state teams: Bemidji State, Minnesota Duluth, Minnesota State Mankato and St. Cloud State. That's 28 games already.
Add two games for the Mariucci Classic and the Gophers can schedule only four nonconference games beyond that to reach their 32-game maximum the NCAA allows.
Last season was great for fans of the rivalry. The Gophers and North Dakota played six times. There were two games in Grand Forks, two at Mariucci in Minneapolis and two at the Xcel, one in the Final Five and one in West Regional.
The Gophers won three of four in the regular season. UND won in the Final Five semifinals and the Gophers own in the West Regional final for a trip to the Frozen Four in Tampa.
When the Gophers were in Grand Forks, UND coach Dave Hakstol told a boosters group he hoped the Gophers and UND could play every season. He said that UND would keep a spot open in its schedule for the Gophers, preferably for a home-and-home, two-game series, with the teams traveling the day in between. So the games would be either Thursday and Saturday or Friday and Sunday.
Clearly, one side in the Gophers-UND rivalry seems more anxious to keep the rivalry hot and stoked than the other.
* Here is how the Gophers' upcoming nonconference games against Hockey East teams break down:
2013-14, Boston College plays at Mariucci
2014-15, Gophers play at Boston College and Northeastern (presumably single games same weekend against both teams. Both teams are in Boston.)
2015-16, Northeastern plays at Mariucci
2016-17, Gophers play at Boston College and Northeastern just like in 2014-15
Lucia said he and his players enjoy going East. The Gophers played at Vermont this season. So that's what the U will doing in upcoming seasons.
Lucia also said the Gophers will eventually mix in other WCHA rivals outside the state from time to time, teams such as Colorado College, where he once coached, Denver and Michigan Tech. Those teams could take North Dakota's place possibly the two years out of four the Gophers skip UND, he said..
TWO WCHA POWERS
The Gophers are 7-0-1 in their last eight games, rated No. 1 in the country and tied for third in the WCHA -- one point behind co-leaders Denver and Nebraska Omaha.
North Dakota has lost once in its last 15 games, is rated No. 6 in the country, and is the team the Gophers are tied with for third place in the conference.
"The rivalry is a whole lot better when both teams are good and that is certainly the case this year," Lucia said. "They are a team that can win it all, certainly not only the WCHA, but the national title. And we feel we should be talked about in thiose ways too."
* The 20 conference games the Gophers play will be two home games and two away games against the five other Big Ten teams: Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin.
* Stub Hub, a site on the Internet where people can buy tickets to sports events, has fewer than 100 tickets available each night for the Gophers-UND series. They run form $75 (standing room) to $374 for Friday, and from $85 to $424 for Saturday.