BY ANDY CLAYTON
“Win or lose, at least we don’t live in Grand Forks.”
That sign – held up by a Denver fan at the 2005 Frozen Four in Columbus, Ohio – perfectly sums up the DU-North Dakota rivalry for me.
The two storied programs may respect each other, but when they battle on the ice it’s college hockey at its very best. Passions run high. The games are intense. It’s great theater. But in the end, Denver always has the edge … “at least we don’t live in Grand Forks.”
The bitter rivalry goes back as long as I can remember. As a kid attending games in the old DU Arena, it used to drive me nuts how many North Dakota fans filled the arena when the Fighting Sioux (now Hawks) were in town. It didn’t dawn on me until much later that there was an obvious reason for all these NoDak alums in the Mile High City. Who in their right mind would stay in Grand Forks after graduation?
OK, enough Grand Forks bashing.
My favorite tale of the DU-UND rivalry came during the 1993-94 season when the long-time combatants engaged in the last great college hockey brawl. I don’t know if that statement is actually true, but it sure was the last great one that I witnessed. College hockey has frowned upon the extracurricular stuff and has done a good job of ridding the game of the all-out brawls you used to see in the ’70s and ’80s. Long suspensions make you think twice about dropping the gloves.
I was a senior at DU, and the sports editor of The Clarion, when the Sioux came to town ready to rumble. The details are a bit sketchy (my Clarion archives are buried deep in a box in the basement), but I know it all started when DU’s Erik Andersson and North Dakota’s Landon Wilson mixed it up in the corner. This was a typical college hockey pushing and shoving scrum. Nothing serious. But things were just getting started.
As the refs were sorting out the penalties, a DU player slew-footed his North Dakota counterpart near center ice. The next thing I remember was seeing the entire North Dakota bench jump onto the ice, skate over to the Denver bench with their sticks and fists swinging. It was like an old-fashioned cavalry charge.
Those of us in the press box had the best seats in the house for the brawl. At the old DU Arena, there were just a handful of rows of seats behind the bench side of the rink. The media were less than 20 feet from the action. And we saw plenty of action. A former DU baseball player was on the media relations staff. He was short enough that he could stand on the press box counter. He was shouting out the numbers of the key Sioux agitators.
I’ll never forget the two goalies skating to center ice as the rest of their teams duked it out at the bench. It seemed like they were skating toward each other in slow motion trying to decide what to do. But as soon as they got within striking distance, DU’s Jim Mullin grabbed his counterpart by the throat and skated him to the far side of the rink and kept him pinned along the boards.
I remember asking Mullin after the game what they talked about. He told me they were not making dinner plans.
The other unforgettable sight was Denver coach Frank Serratore jumping on the back of the Pioneers’ tough guy Chris Kenady as the brawl broke out. Serratore later told me that he grabbed Kenady because he knew the two-sport star (drafted by the Dodgers and the Blues) would be the one to turn a bad situation worse.
In the end, the refs appeared to have no clue what to do. After a lengthy delay, three players from each team were ejected – including Kenady (who hit a home run off me in an intramural softball game that might still be en route to the moon). The ejections led to three-game bans for each of the players.
Serratore was livid about Kenady’s suspension – he had prevented him from taking part in the brawl after all. He had the video evidence to prove it. That was the only time in my Clarion days that Serratore turned me down for an interview. He said he was too preoccupied appealing Kenady’s ban to talk, but promised to get me what I needed if I called him at home later in the week. He took that call. He always did.
In the end, league officials (this was the WCHA days of DU hockey) saw the video and were forced to admit that Kenady could not have been throwing punches. His arms were being pinned by his coach. Suspension overturned. Score another win in the DU-UND rivalry for the Pioneers.
As for that night in Columbus, by the end of the game the sign had been updated to scratch out the word “lose.” A 4-1 DU win gave the Pioneers a second straight national title.
Denver and North Dakota are now tied with seven national titles each. The tiebreaker? “At least we don’t live in Grand Forks.”
Andy Clayton, who graduated from DU with a degree in Mass Communications in 1994, is a former sports reporter and editor for The Clarion. He is currently the deputy managing editor of digital sports for the New York Daily News.