Better Rivalry: Denver-North Dakota or Gold Pan?

Photo Credit: Joe Paisley, Paisley Hockey

It’s not often that University of Denver hockey fans are treated to two rivalry matchups in consecutive weeks. The past weekend saw the Pioneers earn an unlikely and important sweep over the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks and this weekend, the Pioneers will play their second home-and-home of the year against Colorado College. This is just the second time since the 2007-08 season that CC and North Dakota home weekends come in back-to-back weeks.

No one needs to be told that CC and North Dakota are DU’s most important rivals. There’s a reason DU students chant “CC Sucks” at nearly every game (regardless of whether CC is DU’s opponent) just as there’s a reason most DU fans feel like puking whenever they see the North Dakota green and black. Hatred fuels those reactions. Mutual hatred fuels the rivalries.

The back-to-back weekend rivalry series, begs an obvious question that DU fans have struggled with for years: just which rivalry is better?

Because this is a difficult question to answer and I’ve got the space to use I spent my free time looking at the comparison from an objective standpoint (or as objective as I can make it). Through the most scientific of observations (Google) I found that there are generally 5 common traits that most good rivalries share: Proximity, Meaningful Matchups, Teams’ Prestige, Fan Interaction, and Parity.

I looked at each one of these traits, defined them, and analyzed how they related to each of DU’s rivalries. Then I assessed which rivalry best fit with that trait and gave it a “win” or a “point” or a “checkmark” or whatever the heck you want it to be called.

Here’s what I found and decided:

Proximity

This one is pretty straightforward. Some of the best rivalries in all of sports are so heated simply because of how close programs are to each other. The Boston College-Boston University rivalry, otherwise known as The Battle of Comm Ave, The Green Line Rivalry, Battle of Boston, or the B-Line Rivalry (yes those all apply…for whatever reason), is probably the best example of a top-notch rivalry fueled almost exclusively by proximity. When there is little distance between the rivals, the vitriol seems to grow organically.

When it comes to DU-CC and DU-North Dakota, on the surface, this one seems obvious. The Fighting Hawks are from North Dakota and the Tigers are from Colorado Springs. This one should be obvious right? Yep it’s that obvious.
Advantage: Gold Pan Rivalry

Meaningful Matchups

Alliteration aside, this category is a lot more subjective than other categories. What exactly constitutes a meaningful matchup? Playoff games? National Championship games? High-ranked, midseason matchups? Sure. All of those. Given the unavailability of statistics from the 1950s-1980s…ish (Damn you USCHO for only going back to the 1990s), it’s difficult to quantify the entirety of this category…so I’ll go with what we do know.

DU has always been in a conference with CC and North Dakota. The Pios have been playing both programs on a near yearly basis since the 1950s and 60s. As the sport grew at the collegiate level, all three programs asserted their national dominance. Amidst that growth, DU matched up with both programs consistently and rivalries were forged through important regular and post season games.

So which rivalry has the advantage in this category? We know DU is 3-1 against North Dakota in National Championship games. But DU did top CC, 6-2, in the Frozen Four in 2005 to earn the right to beat North Dakota in the National Championship.

DU has also played both programs in a number conference championship games. They’ve lost some and they’ve won some. The DU-North Dakota and DU-CC postseason matchups are numerous, but the question remains, in this category, who has the upper hand?

Let’s also remember that DU and CC are about to square off in the first organized outdoor hockey game in Colorado history, so that’s a pretty meaningful game. Unfortunately, Saturday isn’t going to feature two national powerhouses. It’s going to feature a DU team making a push for a top seed in the NCAA Tournament and a CC team trying to claw its way out of the basement of the NCHC.

Because this category is so close between the two rivalries, it has to come down to the National Championship matchups. DU and North Dakota have squared off 4 times in the National Championship while DU and CC have never played each other for the ultimate prize in college hockey.
Advantage: Denver-North Dakota

Teams’ Prestige

What I mean by prestige is, in essence, team rankings when they play each other. I briefly alluded to that in the meaningful matchups section, but essentially what I’m looking at here is how good each program has been when they’ve played.  For example, when DU and North Dakota squared off at Magness Arena over the weekend, it was a #2 UND team vs a #13 DU team. The prestige of that would outweigh the series between unranked CC and #9 Denver that took place earlier this season.

Over the years, both rivalries have featured high-powered matchups. Frequently, both have featured the #1 and #2 teams in the country. Even in the early to mid-2000s, the Gold Pan Rivalry was almost always a top-5 matchup. Fast-forward to this week, that isn’t exactly the case. Denver is back in the top 10 in both the USCHO.com and USA Hockey polls and tied for 8th in the PairWise Rankings. CC, on the other hand…isn’t. They’re not close to receiving votes in any polls and have been stuck in the bottom 10 of the PairWise Rankings for most of this season. It has been this way for the Tigers for a few years now thanks to poor recruiting.

When DU and North Dakota have matched up in the last two decades, it has consistently been a clash of college hockey titans. There are rare blow-outs, but by and large, when the Pioneers and the Hawks/Sioux play, it’s a heated battle between top 10 or 20 teams. When you add the combined 14 national championships over the course of the last 5 decades, that makes for some serious prestige when the two teams meet on the ice.

In this case, mostly because of very recent history, Denver-North Dakota barely edges out the Gold Pan Rivalry.
Advantage: Denver-North Dakota

Fan Interaction

This is a somewhat subjective category as well. It’s difficult to accurately assess a fan base. What one fan base does well, another might do poorly and vice versa. Further, I think how the two fan bases interact with each other needs to be accounted for as well.

North Dakota fans are notorious for many things. They love their college hockey team and they wear that love on their sleeves. They’re passionate, loud, and they travel well. DU fans know this all too well. At any given Denver-North Dakota game in Denver, Magness Arena is packed with at least 1/3 UND fans and they are often the louder group of fans in the building. While that might be admirable, they don’t always get along well with the Crimson and Gold. There are always North Dakota fans ejected from games at Magness and fights always occur between the fan bases. In short, Green and Black don’t mix with Crimson and Gold.

On the flip side, even though Colorado College fans aren’t as rabid as North Dakota fans are outside of the games, when the puck is dropped, they’re as passionate as any fan base I’ve seen in college hockey. Even when CC’s record is bad, Colorado Springs packs the World Arena for most games. Even though the rivalry is fueled by mutual hatred, there are relatively few altercations between the fan bases. CC fans can always come to DU without fear of physical confrontation and DU can head to CC and feel the same way.

These two rivalries are fueled by mutual hatred, as all rivalries are, but the best rivalries are also built on mutual respect. That mutual respect isn’t there between Denver and North Dakota.
Advantage: Gold Pan Rivalry

Parity

Parity is pretty straightforward. The question at stake is how close is the rivalry? The important thing to analyze is head-to-head records. There is more to it than that, I know, but the dominant factor is that record.

Simply put, DU has a healthy lead in the Gold Pan Rivalry 167-116-7 (.557 Winning Percentage) while North Dakota has had a slight upper hand in DU-UND games with a record of 142-122-10 (.518).

Statistically, parity favors the Denver-North Dakota rivalry. However, as I mentioned above, there’s more to this category that that. Something few take into account is the “anyone’s game” feeling before the teams even take the ice. I’d argue that in no other rivalry does that feeling permeate the arena(s) atmosphere like it does when DU and CC clash in Colorado Springs or Denver. Regardless of where CC is in the standings, there is always a feeling that CC might steal a victory.

There are times when that feeling just isn’t there when Denver and North Dakota take the ice. There is usually a pretty dominant feeling one way or the other before they play. The past weekend was no different, even though that feeling was completely wrong.

In the end, it’s tough to argue with the stats. The Denver-North Dakota series has been so hotly contested throughout its history. In fact, this was the first time either team had earned a sweep in Denver in 12 years. It’s tough to find that kind of parity in any rivalry in sports, much less just these two.
Advantage: Denver-North Dakota

Final Score:

Denver-North Dakota Rivalry: 3
Gold Pan Rivalry: 2

It was close, but the Denver-North Dakota rivalry is a better rivalry than the Gold Pan Rivalry…for now. More than anything, what pushed the DU-UND matchup over the top is the fact that both teams have been much more relevant in the national picture than CC. The games are much more meaningful right now and they’re almost always matchups between college hockey heavyweights.

If CC can get things right again soon, this scoreboard could change. There is no better atmosphere than a DU-CC game when it actually has national implications. For now, Denver-North Dakota is the best rivalry DU has…and it might be the best rivalry any Denver-based sports team (pro or college) has…but that’s an argument for another day.

Let me know if I’m wrong in the comments. Tell me what I’m missing. If you think I’m right, though, feel free to feed my ego. My ego does love when that happens. Either way, let me know how you feel about this comparison.