Doug McLeod Blog: Re-named North Dakota is back in the house

It's been a while since the Golden Gophers last crossed sticks with the North Dakota Fighting Hawks.

Chris Szagola/AP

The Minnesota Golden Gophers and North Dakota last crossed sticks during the regular season on January 19, 2013.

That night, the teams skated to a 4-4 overtime tie. The previous evening, the Gophers won, 5-1.

Two long winters would follow before one of hockey’s most compelling rivalries finally appeared on the schedule again.

This weekend, it’s back.

Both games (Friday, 7 p.m. and Saturday, 8 p.m.) will be broadcast on FOX Sports North. Ben Clymer will join me for the calls.

I’ve chronicled North Dakota’s lengthy, often combative search for a new nickname (which followed NCAA sanctions against the longtime Fighting Sioux moniker) extensively in this space.

Suffice now to say that the green-and-white comes in as the Fighting Hawks, the result of numerous polls, research projects and backroom argument. Publicly, the new nickname works for most parties. Privately, many in The Peace Garden State still don’t like it. Enough. It’s here and, much more importantly, so is the NoDak hockey team.

When these teams last met, Erik Haula, Kyle Rau and Nick Bjugstad were on the way to powering the Gophers to their final WCHA championship. Adam Wilcox would win 25 times and post a 1.88 goals-against average. UND was paced by Danny Kristo and Corban Knight.

The Big Dogs Snarl

These two games pit two of the top teams in the nation against each other at a time that is often overlooked on the schedule. The Gophers feel that by failing to blast away all opponents last fall they left money on the table when it came to matchups in the spring.

This time, the Fighting Hawks come to Mariucci as the defending NCAA national champions. The then-No. 1-ranked ranked Fighting Hawks were roughly handled at Duluth last weekend, losing to the now-top-ranked Bulldogs, 5-2 and 3-0. NoDak is ranked No. 3 in both national polls this week.

The Gophers are a unanimous No. 13 following a 4-3 win at Clarkson and a 2-2 overtime tie at St. Lawrence last weekend. Mike Szmatula, a transfer from Northeastern who sat out last season because of NCAA eligibility rules, nailed three goals over the weekend.

Really, though, what IS in a name?

Oh, and about North Dakota’s new nickname: Can you name the first name by which the college sports teams from Grand Forks were called? Nope, not Flickertails. Before Fighting Hawks, before no-name, before Fighting Sioux (and earlier, simply Sioux) and yes, even before Flickertails (which appeared around 1904), they were known as…wait for it…the NoDaks.

Yes, that name was one of the final five this time around, too. Happily, it didn’t make it.

DOUG McLEOD is a five-time Emmy Award-winning play-by-play announcer for FOX Sports and a longtime voice of Division 1 and NHL hockey. This is his 21st season calling Golden Gopher hockey games.