Loving The Hate

What are the best rivalries in college hockey?

Nov. 16, 2007

By Dave Starman

Special to CSTV.com


Dave is a CSTV game and studio analyst, and contributes regular insight to CSTV.com. E-mail here!


I was listening to Colin Cowherd today, and he was talking about rivalries.


Rivalries can be defined in many forms.  A rivalry in its purest form rests on competition.  Can two teams constantly threaten and determine each others' success?  Michigan-Ohio State football is a rivalry, but really, when was the last time Michigan football affected Ohio State's season?




A rivalry can also be defined as competition between two local teams and will be magnified if they are both good.  Minnesota-Wisconsin hockey falls into that.  BU and BC hockey falls into that.  Michigan and Michigan State definitely falls into that.  If they play checkers against each other, it's a big deal.


A rivalry gains serious steam when it becomes a big deal away from the location where it occurs.  I know the Rangers and Islanders are still a good rivalry, but does anyone in Minneapolis care?  When the Cowboys and 49ers were good in the 1990's, the nation was polarized.  Not anymore, but they were then. 


This was a good point also.  Rivalries don't need years of tradition, they just need intrigue.  Minnesota State and Denver is ho hum to most, but the Purple Bull has Denver's attention.  While CC gets the Denver faithful up and going, Minnesota State has handed Denver some crushing losses over the past few years.  As Denver coach George Gwozdecky told me, "they seem to be our Waterloo."  Inside the Denver room, they know when the Mavericks are on the schedule.  Right now Buffalo and Carolina are a good rivalry, as is Edmonton and Anaheim.  Detroit and Chicago is dead, and the Avalanche-Red Wings has lost some steam.  Buffalo and Ottawa is great, it has gained momentum the past few years.


So, in the game of college hockey today, what are the rivalries that are currently true rivalries?  What teams compete against each other where there is a true identity of one team with the other.  What rivalry is hot, current, and explosive?


As Dennis Miller would say, I don't want to get off on a rant here, but...


Start with the traditionals.  Michigan-Ohio State football has juice, Michigan-Ohio State hockey doesn't.  I'd say that right now, Michigan-Notre Dame might have something going.  Notre Dame is a player in the market in the CCHA and Michigan has always been.  Notre Dame has a new building coming.  Notre Dame has an all-world coach.  Notre Dame is getting better players.  Michigan has always had all that and has a great building anyway.  This one could develop.  That being said, where does Michigan State fall into this?


The defending National Champs from East Lansing are now back to officially being public enemy No. 1 in Ann Arbor.  These two have always affected each other's seasons because they can meet up to nine times a season (four regular-season games, the Great Lakes Invitational, the CCHA Tournament for up to three games, and the national tournament).  Neither has developed a mastery over the other and their games have been awesome.  I think Jack Johnson leaving Michigan dampens this a little because he was so hated by the Spartans and that put more fuel on the fire. 


Michigan and Minnesota share this common denominator.  Everyone hates them.  Michigan might not see Ferris State as a rival, but Ferris sees Michigan very much as one.  The fans are that way also.  The folks in Ann Arbor might say "Gee, I think Ferris comes in this weekend."  People in Big Rapids look at the schedule and say one word: "Michigan." The game is highlighted.


Minnesota is that way also.  That big M is a big bull's eye for the rest of the WCHA.  Even when Denver won back-to-back national titles everyone still wanted to beat Minnesota, including Denver.  Minnesota's big rivals are Wisconsin and North Dakota, and grabbing players like Danny Irmen and the Potulny brothers from the state of North Dakota away from the Sioux certainly raised eyebrows.  Likewise, Madison native Phil Kessel deciding to go to Minnesota over Wisconsin was not well received in Badgerland.


In Hockey East, it's so incestuous that its hard to define it.  The fact that everyone coaching in the conference was born inside the 128 perimeter or close to it makes this one like a rivalry between cousins or brothers.  As Jack Parker said, "most of us played our high school hockey against each other".  Well, except two schools, Vermont and Maine.  Since Maine has been a measuring stick of consistency and excellence in that conference without a base of New England natives playing or coaching, they seem to be the target in Hockey East. 


Their coach, Tim Whitehead, is from that hockey hotbed of Trenton, New Jersey and played Division III hockey.  That's why he's my hero out here in the East: he's the square in the round hole.  He's the guy, who to use the Sesame Street term, is not like the others.  Grant Stanbrook is from Minnesota, Guy Perron is from Quebec.  Whitehead has been to the Frozen Four more than anyone lately except Dave Hakstol at North Dakota. Personally, I think they should call it the Frozen Three plus Maine.  Maybe even the Frozen Others vs. Maine and NoDak.


However, Maine has some serious rivals and No. 1 on that list is New Hampshire and No. 2 is BC.  BU would be a close three, and the reason those four all figure into this mix is because they all have had serious impact on each other's success in very cramped space atop Hockey East.  You just get the feeling that outside of Maine, everyone wants to see them lose.  BC has a legend behind the bench, as does BU.  Dick Umile has 400 wins at UNH and is getting into that neighborhood of being an all-time great (a National Title would cement that).   Whitehead just keeps building, keeps finding great talent all over North America and keeps winning and it drives the fans of Hockey East just nuts.


ECAC Hockey.  Harvard-Cornell.  Next conference.


Well, there are others.  Cornell-Colgate, Cornell-Clarkson.  Seeing a trend here.  Cornell is similar to Minnesota and Michigan because everyone wants to beat them.  Here's an example.  Talking to Harvard's kids last season prior to their game at Cornell, they said, "We need to beat Colgate, but we have to beat Cornell."  Why is Cornell hated?  Because they are usually really good.  They get really good players.  They are really well coached.  They are always in the NCAA Tournament (well, usually are).  They go toe-to-toe with the big boys in the National Tournament, which is not something the ECACH teams can really boast lately.  Their fans are great, but obnoxious to opposing teams.  They had Adam Wodon doing play-by-play.  These things all factor in.


So what are the big rivalries that are hot in college hockey?


I'm thinking Michigan-Michigan State is No. 1 right now because MSU owns the block of wood that Michigan hasn't touched since 1998.  They hate each other anyway, and this just makes it better.


I'm thinking North Dakota and BC.  BC has owned this rivalry in this decade but because these teams are both so good, it is likely they'll see each other in March and North Dakota is jonesing to wipe out the Eagles, who have dispatched them in the past two Frozen Fours.


Bemidji State and Niagara is a good one.  These two have been the cream of the crop in a smaller CHA, but they have met in many CHA title games for that automatic bid to the big dance.  They constantly battle for 1-2 in the CHA.  Bemidji and Robert Morris should be a good one this season since the Colonials ko'ed Bemidji in an upset last season in the CHA's.  Tom Serratore doesn't forget a loss that fast, especially a big one.


North Dakota and Denver seem to be the class of the WCHA, and they have quietly played some unbelievable games in big spots in the past five years.  Great coaches who know how to win, great programs that know how to compete, and they should be headed for a big collision at the Xcel Center in March.


Minnesota and St. Cloud State.  Here's why.  Minnesota has an all-Minnesota team and they are about 90 miles south of St. Cloud, maybe closer.  St. Cloud has taken off under Bob Motzko, a former Gopher assistant.  Motzko will eventually make a huge dent in the Gophers' recruiting, and he will recruit differently because Minnesota will always get the A1 recruit who will stay a year or two while St. Cloud State will attract some A2 types who will stay all four years, provide stability and impact upperclassmen, and eventually smack the Gophers in the nose in a big spot (as if the 2006 WCHA semifinal wasn't enough).  Gopher fans, you are kidding yourselves if you think differently, and being a respected and sophisticated fan base, you have to see this coming.


I'm adding one more, my favorite.  BU and BC.  Don't believe me?  Watch them play in the Beanpot Final (well they can't this season because they'll play in the semi-final ) if you don't think this one is pretty hot.  They recruit the same kids, kids they have been watching since mite hockey.   Boston University wears sweaters that say just "Boston" as if to show the world they are Boston's college hockey team.  They play in a fabulous new arena without the shadow of a great basketball program.  It's Jack Parker Rink for goodness sake, talk about a recruiting tool.


BC is the suburbs, BU is the city.  It's campus vs. midtown.  Here is the kicker.  Getting back to the Beanpot dynamic, BU and BC have played some of their most intense and fiercest games in the Beanpot.  The game doesn't count in the Hockey East Standings.  While it affects the Pairwise, it's essentially an exhibition game.  However, you'd rather "die a thousand deaths" (the line used by Lee when surrendering to Grant) than lose that game to the other, or any game to the other. 


And that is essentially what a rivalry is.  When you can't bear thinking of waking up the next day after losing that night's game to that team, you have a rivalry. 


Who's yours?