DU Hockey Mailbag: It’s North Dakota Week!

Photo Credit: Eric Hylden, Grand Forks Herald

After an odd bye week that gave me some serious college hockey withdrawals, DU hockey is back this weekend to take on their bitter rival, North Dakota. It’s going to be a great weekend of college hockey that you’re not going to want to miss. I will be repeating this info likely later today and tomorrow, but if you can’t make it to Magness Arena this weekend, both games will be televised. Friday’s game (8:06 PM puck drop) will be on CBS Sports and Saturday’s (7:06 PM) will be on Root Sports.

I don’t have to tell you this-but I’m going to tell you anyway-this is one of the best rivalries in college hockey. The fans get into it, these teams have played each other in a number of important games, and both teams feel that the other is easy to hate.

By and large, the college hockey world will be rooting for the Pioneers this weekend. North Dakota is ranked #2 in the country, the Fighting Hawks are easy to dislike, and hey, there’s nothing better than watching one of the top teams in the country go down, right?

Let’s kick off the mailbag with a question from a North Dakota fan:

Before I get into answering this, I’d just like to point out that this Twitter user is using DU’s old hawk logo with changed colors. Dirty, can you explain the logic behind that, please? I want to know.

Anyway, if you follow LetsGoDU on Twitter (if you don’t, be sure to), and you saw my tweets during the DU-UMD series, you saw that I talked a lot about the physical play between the two teams. As I mentioned in my game recaps, there was a lot of extracurricular activity after whistles. By and large, from my perspective, a lot of it was instigated by the Bulldogs. That is not to say that the Pioneers weren’t perpetuating the issues, but the physical play was largely facilitated by frustrated UMD players.

As I looked back at my tweets, I saw how my thread could have been misunderstood. My focus and the issues I had with the game really didn’t have much to do with the physical play. The issues I had were with the referees that weekend (Derek Shepherd and Dan Dreger). They were failing to call a number of penalties during play and, because of that, both teams started to escalate their physicality during the game and that boiled over near the end of the game. There were 3 separate scuffles between Pioneers and Bulldogs across the ice. I don’t know who instigated each one, but both teams were fed up with each other.

I will admit that I was surprised by the physical play that weekend. DU and UMD aren’t exactly “rivals.” They’ve played a lot of games against each other dating back to the heyday of the WCHA (hey that rhymed!), but they don’t exactly hate each other.

This weekend, I’ll be surprised if there isn’t anything happening after most whistles. I think it would be safe to assume that the Pioneers really resent the Fighting Hawks after what happened at The Ralph in December (Denver was outscored 9-1 in 2 games). I think DU is going to come out with guns blazing on Friday and UND might have to withstand some early DU momentum. I am probably wrong because predicting what will happen in a rivalry game is extremely foolish, but hey, this is my space and I get to do what I want with it.

I hope that sort of answers your question, Dirty. I know you asked that sarcastically, but I felt it was worth addressing. I think there will be a number of penalties and a lot of post-whistle pleasantries exchanged this weekend. It won’t surprise me at all.

This will be my first DU-North Dakota game ever. I’m a big DU fan and student, but I’ve never seen what sounds like is an awesome rivalry. Would you give me a sense of what to expect this weekend? Is it like the CC series?
Freshman in JMac

I love this question and I actually lived in JMac for my freshman year too! I hope you’re enjoying your time in the better freshman dorm.

If you love heated rivalries and great hockey atmospheres, you’re in for a real treat. I will be attending my 9th and 10th DU-North Dakota games this weekend (sheesh it’s been 5 years already?!) and I get excited for them just like I did 5 years ago for my first one.

When we say that these two programs hate each other, it’s pure, unadulterated hatred and it stems from familiarity (after all familiarity breeds contempt). North Dakota tends to win more regular season games while Denver has had UND’s number in the conference and NCAA tournaments. DU has won 3 of its 7 National Titles over North Dakota (3-1) and a number of their conference titles have come at the expense of the Fighting Sioux as well.

Beyond that, two players, one from each program, have suffered broken necks in DU-UND games. In a 2005 WCHA Final Five semifinal, DU’s Geoff Paukovich checked Robbie Bina from behind and into the boards, which broke Bina’s neck and nearly ended his career. Then, near the beginning of the 2010 season, Jesse Martin’s head was hit by Brad Malone’s elbow and shoulder to end Martin’s career with a broken neck.

The rivalry has evolved rapidly over the last few years. The worst (best?) era of the rivalry was when the Pios had George Gwozdecky behind the bench and the Sioux had Dave Hakstol behind theirs. Gwoz was easy to hate for NoDak fans and Hakstol was a classic enemy for DU.

Now, both coaches are gone (Gwoz at Valor Christian, Hakstol behind the Philadelphia Flyers’ bench) and the hatred has reduced from an overflowing boil to a simmer. Don’t let that fool you, though. The green and black angers the crimson and gold and vice versa. Anything can happen when these two teams meet on the ice.

If there is one thing I’d say to you, dear Freshman, it’s be ready for a wild atmosphere in the stands. Both games will be jam-packed and almost half of the place will be made up of North Dakota transplants (after all, who wants to live in Grand Forks?). Fights routinely break out on the concourse and there is always a lot of low-level trash talk from both fan-bases. Above all, enjoy yourself. There is nothing like this rivalry when it comes to Magness.

What’s your favorite DU-North Dakota memory?
Jill in Boulder

That one’s an easy one. It may surprise you to find out it came in a DU loss. 5 years ago, during my freshman year (2011-2012) and one of the last years of the WCHA as we knew it, North Dakota came to town for their yearly trip to Denver.

In the Friday night matchup, the Sioux dominated the Pios. By the middle of the 3rd period, the score was 4-0 North Dakota and most of the DU contingent had left the game to beat the traffic. The Sioux fans stayed and were making a ton of noise. Apparently that woke DU up and in the last 6 minutes of the game, the Pios scored 3 goals, 2 of which came in the last minute of the game.

Drew Shore opened the scoring for DU and then Joey LaLeggia and Jason Zucker scored within 36 seconds of each other to close the gap to 4-3. Of course there were only 11 seconds left in the game after that and the Pioneers just didn’t have enough time to force overtime.

That closing flurry gave DU serious life heading into the Saturday night matchup and, even though DU only won by 2 (5-3), the Sioux never had a chance. Thanks to 4 second period goals, DU basically cruised to the weekend split.

I still remember every goal from those 5 minutes of play so vividly. Even though North Dakota won that game, the limited amount of DU fans who stayed until the end were absolutely buzzing on their way out of Magness Arena and Fighting Sioux fans just looked shell-shocked. Saturday’s game was already over at that point.

With that, it’s time to get ready for the weekend. DU has been playing really good hockey in 2016 having only lost once (at Miami) and North Dakota will have its entire lineup available for the first time this year. DU needs victories and North Dakota needs to maintain its PairWise positioning. Both teams have a lot to play for and it’s going to be a special weekend of hockey.

Don’t miss it.