For this week’s feature, I talked to a lot of former players — both Gophers and Sioux — about their memories of the rivalry and their thoughts on what it will become going forward.
Almost all of them immediately lit up, had some laughs and started sharing stories.
After this, I realized that one of the biggest negatives about the rivalry going dormant is that it’s going to cheat players of those memories. Guys from John Mayasich (1950s) to John Marks (1960s) to Marc Chorney (1970s) to Pat Micheletti (1980s) to Jay Panzer (1990s) to Chris Porter (2000s) all talked about their favorite North Dakota-Minnesota games like it was yesterday.
I know Minnesota coach Don Lucia and some fans have said they enjoy going out east like they did this year to play Vermont (their first trip east in nearly a decade), but honestly, in 20 years, the players will not have any memories or stories about that series. Many of their best memories and best experiences in college come from the big rivalry series like North Dakota-Minnesota.
Below are a few stories they shared.
Panzer’s best memory was from the 1998 comeback. UND trailed 3-0 after two periods and outshot the Gophers 20-1 in the third and rallied for a 5-3 win.
“I’ve never played in a building that was as loud as that one was. The details are kind of a blur right now. I just remember the whole comeback and the ear-piercing loudness of The Ralph. It gives me the shivers right now thinking about it, to be honest,” Panzer said.
Some of Marks’ memories were shared in the Friday story. One that wasn’t in the feature involves a big hit.
“We played in Minneapolis and they had a young freshman center named Mike Antonovich. They also had a young freshman winger named Dean Blais. Well, the young Antonovich came down the wing and cut across. I skated up and when I hit him, there was a yard sale. He ended up missing the rest of the season. I went to the penalty box. When I was in the penalty box, I got showered with everything you could possibly be showered with. I’ll never forget that hit and that incident. I remember Dean Blais saying to me years later: ‘We all wanted to come after you, but you were so damn big a lot of guys were afraid of you.’”
Micheletti shared several stories.
“A lot of memories stick out to me. One that really sticks out is my freshman year, 1983, when we had to go to Grand Forks and to the old Ralph. We needed to sweep to win the WCHA title and we did. I was scared out of my mind. It was the first time that I had been in that arena in a long time. The fans were like a hoard of cattle coming in over the locker room. They had a tough, talented team. But we got the sweep.”
And how could Micheletti forget Jim Archibald?
“He ended up being a good friend of mine. We played together in the North Stars’ organization. He was, no question, the toughest guy I competed against in college hockey. Greatest guy off the ice. Great guy to have as a teammate. Toughest competitor ever.”
And Micheletti had one more story before we finished chatting.
“One last jab. My last regular-season game against North Dakota? Minnesota 6, North Dakota 0. Four goals, two assists.”
Chorney said he remembers a series at Williams Arena in Minneapolis.
“My biggest memory was sophomore year. It was the last series of the year and we went to Minnesota. We were up in the standings by three points and we lost Friday night. The place was packed at the old Williams Arena on Saturday night. We were up by one, they pulled the goalie and Dave Christian got a breakaway. He took a slap shot and went top shelf with it. I’ll always remember that. We ended up winning the WCHA championship. That was 1979. All those (Minnesota) guys went to play in the Olympics the next year. That was my best memory.”
And Mayasich had a story for me when he found out that my grandfather was John Nartnik, a fellow former Eveleth hockey player.
“When John got out of the service in the 40s, he had an older pair of skates. He got a new pair and gave the old ones to our coach, Cliff Thompson, and said if anybody wants these for anything, they can have them. (Thompson) said, ‘We have a kid who would like to have them.’ So, I wore your grandfather’s skates all through high school.”