Miller: There's no replacing the Minnesota-North Dakota hockey rivalry
MINNEAPOLIS -- After an edge-of-your-seat 4-4 tie between UND and Minnesota on Saturday night that left fans of both teams applauding the entertaining series, Gophers coach Don Lucia stood in front of a swarm of media members and was asked about the raucous atmosphere inside of a sold-out Mariucci Arena.
The media throng awaited Lucia's response with anticipation because leading up to this weekend's rivalry series, which will be the last regular-season matchup as members of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, the veteran Gophers coach has downplayed the future of the North Dakota-Minnesota rivalry.
The two teams, who have played more than 250 times, aren't scheduled to play in the regular season for at least a few years as they part ways with the creation of the Big Ten Hockey Conference and the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.
For the next few years, Minnesota has scheduled non-conference games against Boston College and Notre Dame, among others, in lieu of UND.
Even beyond the already-in-place schedules, Lucia hasn't appeared eager to play UND every year, an annual rotation North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol would prefer.
But even though it was just minutes after experiencing another thrilling, classic matchup between the two programs, Lucia stood in the hallway outside his locker room and tip-toed around the rivalry question.
"(The atmosphere) was good all weekend," Lucia said. "Our fans get pumped for big games. Boston College and Notre Dame were great atmospheres, too."
Seriously, Don? Give it up. Clearly, there is no replacing the UND-Minnesota rivalry. No other matchup will hold a candle to North Dakota-Minnesota. The fans know it. The players know it. In fact, everyone seems to know it but Lucia.
But don't take my word for it. Listen to Minnesota junior Nate Condon, who had a goal and an assist Saturday, including the game-tying goal with less than three minutes to play in the third period that set up a hold-your-breath track meet of an overtime.
"This is a weekend you look for all year," Condon said. "Everyone is gearing up for this game. It was great to get three points. It's nice to come out of the rivalry that way. You want to beat (North Dakota) because if you don't, you're going to remember it for a long time."
How would Condon summarize his weekend, one in which he scored five points in the series?
"It's great because it was against North Dakota," he said. "If I could do that against them every time, it would make my year."
How does Condon feel about the end of an era between UND and Minnesota in the WCHA?
On the video board at center ice before the beginning of the series, a string of Gopher legends were interviewed about the rivalry and each player made it very clear North Dakota was their biggest weekend of the year.
Young and old alike understand the rivalry. The freshmen get a quick introduction to the hatred between the programs.
"It feels like playoff hockey, even though it's regular season," UND freshman Rocco Grimaldi said. "I can't describe it. It's a whole new level out there."
UND senior Joe Gleason, an Edina, Minn., native, also was questioned about the weekend's atmosphere. His response made more sense than Lucia's.
"That's why you play the game."