The greatest rivalry in all of college hockey is about to be renewed tonight, and that begs the question, what is your favorite Sioux-Gopher memory? Countless memories, both joyous and heartbreaking, come to mind when trying to pick a rivalry-defining moment. But after a great deal of reflection, I've settled on my top three:
#3: February 15, 1998 - The Comeback:
"They just turned it up. They got their 'A' game back and kicked our butts."
- Minnesota coach Doug Woog
After having lost the night before, Minnesota was looking to salvage a split in a rare Sunday game at Old Engelstad Arena. The Sioux came out flat, a rare occasion considering they had outscored their opponents 86-38 while having won 14 of their previous 15 contests. The defending national champions, led by 1998 WCHA Player of the Year Curtis Murphy and fellow All-Americans Jason Blake & Karl Goehring, fell behind 3-0 in the first period and there was little to suggest that the Sioux would be able to mount any sort of comeback against goaltender Steve DeBus and the Gophers.
Then, Murphy's power play goal just under 7:00 into the third period ignited both the team and the crowd, and less than eight minutes later the Engelstad Arena crowd was in a delirious frenzy after goals by Blake and Jeff and Jay Panzer gave the Sioux a 4-3 lead. The five-goal third period was capped with an empty netter, and Minnesota was forced to head back home without a point.
If memory serves, I believe that was the game that gave birth to "Welcome to the Jungle" as the unofficial "get off your tail and make some noise" song, and at one point, the crowd was so fired up that the noise caused Midwest Sports Channel's cameras to shake during the broadcast. To this day I have never heard a Fighting Sioux crowd as loud as it was that day.
#2: March 17 & 25, 2007 - Reversal of Fortune:
“I just took a whack at it. I couldn’t believe when the crowd started going crazy. I didn’t see it go in.”
- Minnesota forward Blake Wheeler
After winning the WCHA regular season title, Minnesota entered the 2007 WCHA Final Five Championship game looking to avenge the home sweep North Dakota had served up earlier that season. Minnesota was the #2 ranked team in the nation, and the red hot Sioux were ranked #7 after a second-half surge that had seen them go 15-2-4.
A scoreless first period was followed by a second period that saw Minnesota take a 2-1 lead. After Ryan Duncan tied the game for the Sioux early in the third, both teams went scoreless until this happened:
Wheeler's lunging swipe propelled Minnesota to the top overall seed in the NCAA tournament, where they were placed in the West Regional along with their favorite neighbor, North Dakota. After each team did its part by winning their first round game, a rematch of the previous week's Final Five championship would decide which team would get to punch its ticket for St. Louis and the Frozen Four.
"Nobody likes to lose the WCHA championship game and it kind of stuck with us all week."
- North Dakota forward Chris Porter
Each team scored in the first period, and after a scoreless second period North Dakota took a 2-1 lead early in the third on a Robbie Bina power play goal. The Sioux held the tenuous one-goal lead for over ten minutes, until a power play goal by Jay Barriball evened the score. Neither team scored the rest of the way, setting up overtime drama for the second time in just 8 days. North Dakota was applying good pressure in the extra session, and they started planning for St. Louis because of this:
Perhaps the most memorable aspect of these two games was their proximity not only on the calendar, but within the games themselves. In more than 133 minutes of action, neither team was able to enjoy more than a one goal cushion, leading to some very dramatic and intense play.
#1: February 2 & 3, 1996 - Giant Killers:
"The only time that game was close was when the referee dropped the opening puck."
- Minnesota coach Doug Woog
My number one memory of the Sioux-Gopher rivalry comes from the first weekend I'd ever seen the two teams play in person. Top-ranked Minnesota came into Engelstad Arena a confident bunch, having won 12 straight and going unbeaten in their last 20. Led by eventual Hobey Baker Award winner Brian Bonin, Minnesota looked to deliver a knockout punch to a North Dakota team that had scored just eight goals while staggering through a four game losing streak. Furthermore, the Gophers had not given up a goal in over 192 minutes.
Well, it didn't take another four games to score eight goals, as North Dakota came out with guns blazing. When Billy Trew scored halfway into Friday's 1st period, the offensive barrage was on and didn't let up until the Sioux had the sweep. By the time the dust settled the Fighting Sioux had lit the lamp 15 times via 8-2 (Friday) and 7-5 (Saturday) victories. The sweep not only ended the Gophers' impressive unbeaten streak, but it marked the beginning of a tailspin that saw them lose six of eight games.
Those are my favorites. What are yours?