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Gophers beat UND Sioux 6-2 to stay atop WCHA

Just another wild weekend in the Gophers/Sioux rivalry; UND wins a low-scoring, hard fought battle 2-1 Friday night (I know, I know, I was as shocked as you that Minnesota lost a Friday game. When was the last time that happened? Oh right- it happens EVERY Friday! Or so it seems), only for the Gophers to rally with a fast and aggressive style Saturday night that overwhelmed North Dakota for a 6-2 victory. Minnesota jumped out to a 4-zip lead, and UND responded in their usual classy fashion by starting fights and taking cheap shots. Of course they did. If only to defend their honor and manhood, the Gophers responded with some bad penalties and fights of their own. But again, all entirely in self-defense (wink-wink-nudge-nudge).

The topper was the end-of-game handshake where 6'4, 226 pound senior UND defenseman Ben Blood tried to make himself feel like less of loser by taking a shot at 5'8 173 pound freshman Kyle Rau. You stay classy, Ben Blood! That moment pretty much epitomizes the Sioux and their fan base for me: sore losers. UND played well in their win Friday night (and played very well in both close losses at Mariucci before Christmas), but when Minnesota started romping on Saturday, that's when UND lost their cool and showed their true colors.

Another sign of their sore-loser ways? Before Friday night's game Gopher radio play-by-play man Wally Shaver and analyst Glen Sonmor both made light of the fact that UND is no longer allowed to use the Fighting Sioux nickname or logo, but you sure couldn't tell being at The Ralph. The giant logo and words "Home of the Fighting Sioux" is still at center ice, and it's also still prominently displayed on their jerseys. They fought long and hard to keep their name and logo and lost, but instead of taking it like a man and taking the logo and nickname off the ice surface and jerseys (which be VERY easy to do), they basically responded like this. Not that I'm surprised.

UND used some excuse saying their new jerseys were on "back order". Apparently in Grand Forks, "back order" either means "sitting in boxes unopened at the back of a storage room in the bowels of the Ralph" or "being used for kindling to stay warm on those long North Dakota winter nights when you have nothing else to do but obsess over the fact your team is 7th in the WCHA and the Gophers are better than you".

Come to think of it, maybe we've found UND's new nickname to replace the Sioux? The University of North Dakota Fighting "Sore Losers". Or, as they'd spell it in Grand Forks, the Sore Lioux-sers. Just a thought.

Back to the games on the ice, Rau and Bjugstad were once again the stars of the weekend for Minnesota with three points each. The third line also chipped in nicely in Saturday's win with three assists for captain Taylor Matson, two goals and an assist for Nate Condon, and we had a Seth Ambroz sighting with a goal and an assist. Maybe they should become the new second line as Erik Haula and his linemates struggled again, with a combined one assist the entire weekend. Kent Patterson continued to be his brilliant, wonderful self in net stopping 48 of 52 shots in the series, and the penalty kill looked like its league leading best allowing just one UND goal in nine tries.

In my never-ending quest to figure out why Minnesota continues to struggle in Friday night games, my new theory is aggression- or a lack there of. They took less penalties but also didn't seem as aggressive Friday night and lost, while Saturday night they were flying and aggressive. It led to more penalties (a whopping 10, but a lot of that was after they took the four goal lead and UND started acting like, well, UND) but also a win. Handing the opposition power play opportunities might not be the best strategy, but with a PK as good as the Gophs, I'll take the trade off of living on the edge a bit if more aggression means more penalties but more physical and more offensive opportunities.

All gloating aside, here's hoping these teams meet again at the Final Five in March at The X. The best rivalry in college hockey needs as many new chapters as we can get before 2013 when the schools will go their separate ways and the uncertainty of playing annually begins. Here's also hoping the Gophers come to their senses and don't abide by the ridiculous rule that Minnesota can't play "out of conference opponents with offensive nicknames" so that the Gophs and Sioux can keep playing at least a regular season series per year.

The split over the weekend keeps the Gophers tied atop the WCHA with Duluth, who split with UNO in Omaha. Both schools have 24 points, four up on third place CC, and five points ahead of Denver and UNO. UND? They currently sit in 7th with 16 points. If the playoffs started today they would travel to the UP to play Michigan Tech in the 6 v 7 matchup. I can't wait to see what the Sore Lioux-sers reaction would be if that scenario plays out.