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UND, Gophers meet on college hockey’s biggest stage

GRAND FORKS — For the first time since the 1940s, the University of North Dakota and Minnesota were not scheduled to play a hockey game this season.

But that didn’t deter some players from dreaming about the possibility of the teams meeting anyway.

“I think everyone, in the back of their mind, was hoping it would happen at some point in the tournament,” UND junior Stephane Pattyn said. “Why not in the biggest game of the season?”

As it turns out, North Dakota and Minnesota will, indeed, meet on college hockey’s biggest stage, the NCAA Frozen Four. Their semifinal matchup at 6:30 p.m. Thursday (ESPN2) will be the fifth meeting between the teams in the national tournament.

Minnesota won the 1979 national championship game and the 2012 regional final. North Dakota won the 2005 Frozen Four semifinal game and the 2007 regional championship.

Game 5 will send one of the elite programs to the national championship game against Boston College or Union.

“The excitement of the Minnesota-North Dakota rivalry is there,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “It was there right from square one. Nobody is hiding that. I think everyone embraces that and will be excited for that.

“The hoopla is a reality of it. It’s a national semifinal game. There’s going to be an awful lot of hype in and around the rivalry. I think our team will do what we always do: We’ll deal with it openly and honestly, know what our situation is, and then push all the external things to the side and make sure we can control everything within our game.”

There’s a long, contentious history between these teams. They’ve played dramatic, overtime games. They’ve brawled (in handshake lines, no less). And they always find a way to capture college hockey’s spotlight when they play.

“It’s an exciting time,” said UND forward Rocco Grimaldi, who scored his first-career goal against the Gophers. “We weren’t sure if we were going to be able to see them this year. For guys who are heading out this year or the next year, I know they wanted another piece of these guys one more time.

“But we can’t let the rivalry play too much of a role. We’re in it for one reason and one reason only. That’s to win a championship. And we have to win Thursday if we want to keep that alive.”

Players said they are embracing the rivalry, but they need to keep their emotions under control.

“There’s that extra oomph that both teams are going to bring,” UND junior Connor Gaarder said. “I’m sure they are excited. We’re excited. Both teams are going to play their best games.

“We can’t get too jacked up for it, though. You might make stupid plays. You’ve got to keep your emotions under check and play smart, strong hockey.”

UND and Minnesota aren’t expected to meet in the regular season until the 2016-17 season in Mariucci Arena. They’ll meet again in 2017-18 in Grand Forks.

Hakstol would like to see the matchup happen more often.

“I think it’s one of the special things within college hockey,” Hakstol said. “No question, it’s exciting for both sides of the fan bases. I think that’s extremely important. We’ve heard over the last 12 months as a lot of people have been afraid they wouldn’t see the rivalry for a few years.

“They’ll both be excited about. I’m not exactly sure what it does focus-wise. We’re playing in the national semifinal game and that’s the most important thing. But is there a little flavor added? Absolutely.”

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 12th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He has voted in the national college hockey poll since 2007 and has served as a member of the Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier Award committees.

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