Feb. 12, 2014
By Chad Shepard, MGoBlue.com
When the 11th-ranked Wolverines and second-ranked Golden Gophers clash this weekend for a two-game series, it will reignite one of the most historic rivalries in college hockey. Minnesota takes a six-point Big Ten standings lead over Michigan into the weekend, with one month remaining in the conference slate.
The two schools haven't played since Nov. 28, 2010, when they met in the last edition of the College Hockey Showcase, but with the creation of the Big Ten Hockey conference, the schools, which rank No. 1 and No. 2 all-time in NCAA Division I wins, will now meet four times each season. Two schools that were both there when it all began will now begin a new chapter of their prolific rivalry.
On Jan. 23-24, 1923, U-M and Minnesota played against one another in just the fifth and sixth games in Michigan's Division I college hockey history. Since then, the schools have combined for nearly 3,300 wins, hoisted 14 national title banners and made 44 Frozen Four appearances, 20 of which have come since 1990.
Red Berenson, who coached the Wolverines to nearly a quarter of those wins, eight Frozen Fours and a pair of national championships, played his first collegiate game as a sophomore against the Gophers on Feb. 5, 1960, when the schools were still playing together in the WCHA. Berenson's debut came seven years after Michigan and Minnesota met in the 1953 NCAA title game in Colorado Springs, Colo., when the Wolverines defeated the Gophers, 7-3, for their fourth national title.
"There was a huge, huge rivalry with Minnesota and Michigan in those days," Berenson said.
He also remembers their legendary coach, John Mariucci, who Berenson recalled as, "a wild man and a great Minnesotan." Mariucci coached the Gophers from 1952-66 and is the person for whom Minnesota's home rink and the Mariucci-Renfrew Trophy is named after.
The other half of the trophy is named for Michigan coach Al Renfrew, who led the Wolverines from 1957-73. The hardware has been awarded to the winner of Michigan-Minnesota games since 1993, when the College Hockey Showcase was created to give the Wolverines annual contests against Minnesota and Wisconsin. This year, the trophy will be awarded to the team that accumulates the most points in the four Big Ten games between Michigan and Minnesota.
Coach Berenson was also between the benches when the two schools met in back-to-back Frozen Fours in 2002 and 2003. Minnesota went on to win the national title in both of those seasons.
The first time Michigan and Minnesota met in 2002, the game was played at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
"We were good, but they were better," Berenson said, "And they were playing at home."
Minnesota jumped out to a 3-0 lead and the pair of goals. Michigan scored in the final 10 minutes, but it would not be enough to complete a comeback. The final was 3-2.
Current Michigan goaltending coach Josh Blackburn was a senior in net for that game, where he stopped 23 of 26 shots in what was a matchup of two of college hockey's best goaltenders in Blackburn and Minnesota's Adam Hauser.
"We had been to the Frozen Four the year before and had lost (to Boston College) in that game. (Minnesota) was really good that year," Blackburn said. "We tried to get past them to get to that championship game, but we just didn't have enough. That was my last game I played in college, so it was important to me that I played well."
When the schools met the following year for a rematch in the Frozen Four, Michigan was ready for the Gophers. This time it was the Wolverines who had an early lead after scoring the game's first two goals, but Minnesota evened the score and eventually won, 3-2, in overtime on its way to back-to-back titles.
"We had a good team and we should have won that game," Berenson said, "We ended up on the short side of the stick. That was a tough one."
Now, the two schools will meet in Minneapolis for the first time since 2010, and the Maize and Blue are fired up for the challenge.
"It'll be a good test for us," Berenson said. "We went from playing a team that maybe didn't have as much momentum or respect for (in Penn State) to playing a team who has a lot of both."
Even in Canada, where junior hockey and major junior teams are more prevalent, people will be watching, says freshman defenseman Nolan De Jong, a native of Victoria, B.C.
"Whenever there happens to be a game on TV, it's always big schools such as Michigan and Minnesota," De Jong said, "It'll be watched by many where I'm from."
Berenson notes this year's team under head coach Don Lucia is a prototypical Golden Gophers squad.
"He coaches the team like Minnesota has been known to play," Berenson said, "They're a good offensive team, a good skating team and their defense are always dangerous. They're like us. They lose players every year, and (Don) has done a good job of keeping Minnesota hockey at a high level."
While the two teams will meet for the first time in over three years, it won't be difficult for Michigan to jump right back into the rivalry.
"Much like a lot of teams get up to play us, we're going to get up to play Minnesota," said senior captain Mac Bennett.
The two teams will meet for a pair of contests this weekend in Minneapolis, Minn., beginning on Friday (Feb. 14) at 8 p.m. CST and on Saturday (Feb. 15) at 7 p.m. CST. Friday's game will air on the Big Ten Network and FS Detroit will carry Saturday's game.