There are not many places in America where "non-revenue" college sports get significant recognition. The few include wrestling in Iowa, running in Oregon, baseball in the South, and womens' college basketball in Tennessee and Connecticut. Of course, in Minnesota we pay and give our attention to hockey (although mens' hockey has really screwed the pooch this year). And this is a fine moment to inform the masses that on Saturday, before Tubby's boys beat up the Hoosiers, the womens' Gopher hockey team secured its second straight WCHA conference title with a come-from-behind, 3-2 victory over Wisconsin.
My daughter is six years old, and she has really taken to hockey the past 18 months (hey Gopher coaches - the doctors have told me she's going to be 6'1" - I'll send you a recruiting tape of her skating lessons). I ice skate with her regularly, and after seeing the look on her face when I took my three year old son to a recent Wild - Red Wings game, I promised that I'd take her to a hockey game this year. "With girls," she demanded. Of course - we'd see the regular season finale, with the conference title on the line, against the border rivals.
I had never gone to a Gopher womens' hockey game before, yet of course I knew of the team's pedigree - five conference titles in twelve years, six Frozen Four appearances, two national titles, stars like Darwitz, Wendell, Stephens and Muzerall.
I was blown away by the experience.
My most recent Gopher experience was Friday afternoon, reading PJS's recap of the Gopher basketball victory over Wisconsin, reading about the student section chanting profanities, and reading about how Bo Ryan resembled a douche on the sidelines.
This couldn't have been any different, or any more refreshing, as a collegiate sporting event.
First off, let's mention the teams. The talent level was sublime. Personally, while I've watched mens' hockey for decades, the rule tweaks in the womens' game (notably, no explicit checking) made for an exciting, open-ended game that I frankly preferred to the mens' vintage. Furthermore, the fact that the women are smaller than their male counterparts made for a more exciting experience. There was no feeling of claustrophobia or that there should be fewer people on the ice. The women took chances with geometry, executed fine passes off the boards, odd women rushes, classy one-on-one moves, Wisconsin played a swift, aggressive forechecking game, and both teams played solid technical hockey.
The game moved fast, clocking in at about two hours, fifteen minutes. There were no more than five penalties. Wisconsin successfully killed a five-on-three power play. Minnesota goaltender Alyssa Grogan stopped a Badger penalty shot. The game was wide open, played sometimes for almost five minutes between whistles. Both teams played fabulous, precise hockey, with speed, talent and tenacity. It was excellent.
The ending was beyond exciting. Kelly Seeler scored on a rare power play with about five minutes remaining to tie the game, and then, with 1:40 remaining, Becky Kortum passed to Chelsey Jones, who finished off a perfectly executed two-on-one to net the game- and conference title-winner. My daughter was on her feet cheering with excitement, singing the Rouser for the first time in her life.
It's also worth mentioning other things I did and did not see at this game. I never saw one player on either team confront a referee. I actually saw Gopher players genuinely SMILING while discussing something with a ref. Neither of the coaches acted like petulant babies. The students that were there (yes, there were many high school kids there, but there was a collection of college students taking advantage of the low ticket price of FREE) were respectful and didn't yell, let alone drop f-bombs. Oh yeah, extend that to the whole crowd: there was NO time during the game where the fans complained about a reffing decision, which might have something to do with the swift, technically precise play and the absence of whining by the players (a symptom I also confronted when attending the Thunder-Timberwolves game last night). There was no showboating by the players. There were no coaches yelling at fans (yep, I'm referencing the SDSU football game). And there was genuine joy upon victory and respect between the teams in the post-game handshake.
I experienced all this for $13, and I created a new Gopher fan in the process.
The mainstream media naturally congregates towards the sports that make money. That's understandable. However, you've seen GN's baseball preview on this site (and if you haven't, here's your link), and despite my lack of mens' hockey work this year (baby #3 combined with the Gophers' implosion have made Lucia's boys one of the sacrifices given my limited time), well, we will do more to honor those student-athletes in Dinkytown that deserve it.
I implore you. If you're in Minnesota, and you've got the time, find your way to attend some non-revenue sporting events. Check out a Gopher baseball game at the Metrodome (or at Target Field on 3/27), check out the Big Ten Track and Field Championships next weekend at the U of MN, or check out the Womens' Frozen Four next month. You'll watch high quality athletics at a reasonable price, and your love of sports will be refreshed. Then, you can return to the stresses of Gopher basketball and football.