VIRG FOSS: UND game against Minnesota is a classic to be remembered
Let me begin by saying this up front — I’ve never been prouder of a UND hockey team that lost in the NCAA Frozen Four than this year’s team.
Underdogs, yes. Overachievers, yes. Scoffed at by the Las Vegas oddsmakers, yes. Losers? Not this team.
This team won the admiration and appreciation of hockey fans everywhere, the Little Engine that Could of the college hockey world all season.
The heartbreaking truth is that a UND team that barely made it into the NCAA tournament lost to the nation’s consensus No. 1 team with a fraction of second left on the clock Thursday night in the Frozen Four.
The drama of such a devastating loss will stay with the players forever. You don’t forget trauma like that, not something that ends so suddenly with the cruelty that is attached to that.
Not by all that much, but UND outplayed the Gophers, especially in the telling third period. But a fortunate bounce of the puck often determines a winner in a close game, and the bounce went Minnesota’s way with overtime looming.
I joined four Fargo residents and friends of some years now — Mark, John, Paul and Kris — who are UND hockey season ticket holders — for dinner before watching the game on Mark’s big-screen TV, one last gathering for all of us until next season.
We went out to a restaurant for dinner, all wearing our vintage Fighting Sioux gear, me in my game-worn No. 5 green UND jersey with Blackhawks’ logo, perhaps last worn in action by Scott Sandelin in the early 1980s.
But not even the great karma rising from our gathering and vintage gear could pull out this victory for our favorite team.
It was a tremendous game, two bitter rivals who kept their hatred for each other in check in recognition of the much larger stakes of perhaps a national championship on the horizon.
I called Chicago to talk to my sister Carol — yes, a Gopher fan — before the third period began. We agreed it was one of the best games we’ve seen.
She repeated my mother’s favorite saying — “may the best team win.”
And that’s what was so hard watching the unbelievable ending to this game. A UND power play we hoped would churn out the winning goal turned into a shorthanded goal against them with a few ticks left on the clock.
Immediately, I thought of my conversation with my sister. No, I thought, the best team didn’t win tonight. UND was better — and lost.
I thought back to 1997 when Michigan went into the Frozen Four a heavy favorite, but it was underdog UND that won it all in Milwaukee.
I was at the press conference to announce the Hobey Baker Award winner the day after Michigan lost to Boston University in the semifinals in 1997. “Sometimes the best team doesn’t win,” Michigan’s Brendan Morrison said, minutes after winning the Hobey Baker Award.
I recall ripping Morrison for saying that in his acceptance speech after receiving college hockey’s highest individual honor. His comment struck me as arrogant and certainly poorly timed. But there was truth in what he said, too.
I harbor no bitterness about Minnesota’s victory over North Dakota. Those were two outstanding teams playing a whale of a game for 60 minutes on a huge stage. It’s a game that will be talked about for years. A classic.
But on this night, North Dakota was the slightly better team everywhere but on the final scoreboard, the scoring judge that counts most.
I drove back to Grand Forks late Thursday, the game hanging heavy on my mind and heart.
Sure, Minnesota won, hats off to thee.
But was North Dakota a loser with that performance and effort? Never, never, never.
Virg Foss reported on sports for the Grand Forks Herald for 36 years until his retirement. He writes an exclusive weekly column for the Herald from October through April. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (701) 772-9272.