Pretty much since the dawn of time, the same narrative has prevailed around Minnesota's in-state hockey rivalries.

It's the Gophers vs. the rest.

The Gophers are the most decorated team in the state, having five NCAA championships. The program has also produced the most Olympians and NHL players.

Yet when the Gophers take the ice against Minnesota Duluth for a home-and-home series beginning 7 p.m. Friday at 3M Arena at Mariucci, that David-and-Goliath scenario won't look quite right. It would actually make more sense if reversed.

The Gophers' last titles were back-to-back trophies in 2002-03, and they haven't made the Frozen Four since losing in 2014's final. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, won in 2011, went back-to-back in 2018-19 and also made the 2017 and 2021 Frozen Fours.

"It's always fun being the underdog," Duluth defenseman Louie Roehl said. "… We know what we have here, what we can bring to the table."

Well, according to the rankings, the No. 4 Gophers do have the slight advantage on No. 5 Duluth. But just like last weekend's in-state opponent, No. 2 St. Cloud State, the Bulldogs are older and bigger than the Gophers.

The Bulldogs have six fifth-year players and another six seniors. The Gophers regularly play four freshmen at forward. There have been several instances this season already where one of those freshmen has gone into a corner battle against a defenseman about six years his senior.

The pandemic might have exacerbated the difference this year, with players afforded an extra year of eligibility, but the same scenario seems to play out most seasons. The Gophers, filled with highly touted prospects fresh out of high school, against older players who have honed their skills in juniors.

Nevertheless, there's always a target on the Gophers' back, says senior winger Blake McLaughlin. His linemate Sammy Walker agreed the competitiveness also ratchets up when facing another Minnesota team, especially with many players on each team's roster are Minnesota natives who have grown up with all the rivalry lore.

Gophers forward Grant Cruikshank, a transfer from Colorado College who is from Wisconsin, experienced his first taste of the rivalries in the split with St. Cloud State, two tight games with a little bit of officiating controversy for some spice. But he also found an important takeaway from those games.

"One of the things that we're trying to work on and build for the rest of the season is just keeping that intensity for every game," Cruikshank said. "You'll look at some of those top teams like Duluth and St. Cloud and North Dakota that have a lot of respect from teams around the country, it's just because they play the same way every single time.

"… That's one of the biggest reasons why they've had so much success in the last few years."

Gophers coach Bob Motzko said he'll continue to schedule fellow Minnesota teams, broken into different conferences when the Big Ten started its hockey league in 2013, on a rotating basis for each nonconference season. And he's enjoyed the recent string of series — including Wisconsin and North Dakota coming up in November — that have harkened to the past. Even beyond just the Gophers, St. Cloud also split a series with Minnesota State-Mankato while Duluth swept Bemidji. All those teams are ranked.

"There's been a great regional feel that's the old WCHA at its best, and the crowds have showed up to appreciate that," Motzko said. "All five [Minnesota teams] made the NCAA tournament a year ago, all five teams are pretty good, arguably belong where they are, and it's just going to be a dogfight in our state right now."

Whether the Gophers are underdog or top dog in that fight, though, is still up for debate.