We long thought that college hockey was the most-read item in the Grand Forks Herald.
But in 2012, that was proven wrong.
Marilyn Hagerty's viral review of the Olive Garden showed that it is, actually, food.
In the wake of that review, I decided to combine the two topics, college hockey and food. Instead of an all-conference or All-American team, I started the all-dining team -- a list of the best places I ate during that particular college hockey season.
Throughout the years, the Cherry Cricket, a famed burger joint in Denver, has been a prominent figure.
In the inaugural year, it was a first-team selection.
The following year, it was the MVP.
In 2015, it became the first restaurant inducted into the all-dining team Hall of Fame.
Then, last season, it unexpectedly ended up as a central piece of a UND hockey story that went viral across the country and even ended up on ESPN's First Take.
The Cherry Cricket is where UND junior defenseman Josh Rieger was hammering a pound of wings when he got the call that teammate Jonny Tychonick had fallen ill and would be unable to play that night. Rieger, instead, was going to have to step in to the series finale vs. top-ranked Denver.
Rieger quickly paid his bill and ordered an Uber to the rink. By the time he arrived at Magness Arena, warmups were already underway. He threw on his uniform, took a couple of laps, then had to play in the game.
Rieger happened to score his first-career goal, which stood as the game-winner. His re-telling of the story was priceless.
The Cherry Cricket: First-team, all-original dining team. MVP. Hall of Fame inductee. And pre-game fuel for one of UND's biggest victories of 2019-20, one that launched the team on a run that ended with a 26-5-4 record, the fourth-best in program history.
The coronavirus pandemic may have ended the season early, not allowing the season to be played out. But there was still enough time to get a sampling of more restaurants around college hockey towns.
So, without further adieu, here's the eighth-annual all-dining team. Who knows, maybe Rieger will end up at one of them before a big win in 2020-21.
Victor's 1959 Cafe, Minneapolis: I've been waiting for an heir apparent to Campus Pizza for the best place in the Twin Cities and I may have found it. This Cuban restaurant in south Minneapolis came highly recommended from a pair of former Herald co-workers and it did not disappoint. It is great for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The atmosphere of the place, with writing on the walls, is great, too. Pro tip: Put the Tamarillo hot sauce on everything.
Duluth Grill, Duluth: Over the last decade, I've spent so much time at Sammy's Pizza that I've failed to explore other options in Duluth. This year, I finally decided to expand my horizons in the city. Duluth Grill was a home run. A lot of its ingredients are local and fresh. The go-to has to be the different bowls, which are large and filled with different ingredients depending on which bowl you order. This will become a go-to for me as much as Sammy's.
Mai Thai, Omaha: I've walked past Mai Thai dozens of times on the way from my hotel to Baxter Arena, but I've never stopped until this year. I should have been stopping there all along. I tried the curry and it might have been the best curry I've ever had. Perfect amount of kick to it.
Jones Brothers Cupcakes, Omaha: Jones Brothers was not a planned stop, either. But located in the Aksarben Village right by Mai Thai, I decided to pop in and see what they've got. The bakery items are impressive and the cupcakes are unreal. If you are committed to eating super healthy, stay away from here; it's dangerously good.
Cherry Cricket, Denver: A few years ago, I began the all-dining team Hall of Fame. Once restaurants are inducted into the Hall of Fame, they are ineligible for the all-dining team (I did this, because otherwise, some restaurants would just be on it every year and the all-dining team wouldn't change). But considering what happened this year, the Cricket has to go back on the first team one final time.
Modern Love, Omaha: Located in midtown, not too far from the Aksarben area (where Baxter Arena is located), Modern Love had the best fried mozzarella I've ever had. Unfortunately, I devoured that before I snapped a picture. But here's a mac-and-cheese type of a main course.
Pagliai's Pizza, Mankato: A member of the first-ever all-dining team, Pagliai's was a great restaurant that I lost the ability to annually visit in the Great College Hockey Realignment of 2013. For the first time since realignment, UND was back in Mankato this fall. No surprise, Pagliai's was again on the list and it once again delivered. I will spare you a picture of my pizza, however, as NHL writer Dan Myers called it the "saddest-looking pizza he's ever seen." It was nothing against Pagliai's. Just against my "unique" order.
Skyline Chili, Oxford, Ohio: When the manager knows you and your life story by the time the two-game college hockey series is over, you've perhaps spent too much time there. In this case, both UND sports info director Mitch Wigness and I have to plead guilty. It's just too good, though. Even if those at Miami University are not impressed with my taste.
Studio Grill, Kalamazoo, Mich.: Midco TV play-by-play announcer Alex Heinert stumbled upon this place on Friday. He agreed to go back Saturday. It's a small place with a very friendly and accommodating staff. With all of the great brewpubs and dining places in downtown Kalamazoo, I didn't think a smaller place like this would end up on the dining team, but it did.
Original Chipotle, Denver: I briefly consulted with Rieger for this year's all-dining team, as he obviously has terrific taste by visiting the Cherry Cricket. He didn't have a whole lot of suggestions, because he and the others mainly just go to Chipotles on the road. Well, that's good enough for me. Not only did I visit a Chipotle this season, but I hit up the original Chipotle, which is on the campus of the University of Denver.
Backlot Taphouse, Omaha: It was quite disappointing to hear that former all-dining team member Dudley's Pizza, located in Aksarben Village, had closed. However, a new pizza place has opened in its spot, and it's every bit as good as Dudley's.
Municipal Brew Works, Hamilton, Ohio: Miami sports info director Chad Twaro, who is perennially disappointed with my taste, took it upon himself to make sure I visited a place that he approved this season. So, we went to Municipal Brew Works, which is located in an old municipal building in Hamilton, Ohio, about 15 miles outside of Oxford. I'll give him credit. This place was excellent.
Half Brothers, Grand Forks: For not being a big city, Grand Forks punches above its weight class when it comes to pizza. There's a lot of really good pizza in town. Your mind probably starts at places like Hall of Fame member Deek's, Popolino's, Mike's, Up North, Happy Joe's, Rhombus, Italian Moon, etc. You don't think of Half Brothers. But in addition to producing quality beer, Half Brothers has some great pizza.
Chili's, Fargo: With nonconference series in Minneapolis and Mankato -- and a road trip to St. Cloud -- I spent a lot of time heading down I-29 and I-94. Each one required a stop in Fargo for Chili's, which continues to have the best chips and salsa anywhere. This is the third Chili's to make the list, joining the O'Hare Airport Chili's and the Colorado Springs Chili's. Last week, while in Kansas City, I found this piece of art. Frankly, it belongs in the Louvre.
Urban Stampede, Grand Forks: My growing coffee addiction has led to a new development of coffee houses landing on the all-dining team in recent years. The Urban Stampede is located about three or four blocks from the Herald. The coffee is so good that my former co-worker Chris Bjorke and I would walk there nearly every day, no matter how cold it got in the winter.
Victor's 1959 Cafe, Minneapolis: It may be a little out of the way from Mariucci Arena and the Xcel Energy Center, but it is without question worth the detour. Victor's is the first all-dining MVP from the Twin Cities.
2013: Glacier Brewhouse, Anchorage
2014: Cherry Cricket, Denver
2015: Ian's Pizza, Madison
2016: American Flatbread, Burlington, Vt.
2017: Bagel and Deli, Oxford, Ohio
2018: New Orleans Takeout, Madison, Wis.
2019: Tomasita's, Santa Fe, N.M.
2020: Victor's Cafe, Minneapolis
Rookie of the year
Duluth Grill: Most UND fans love staying downtown when visiting for hockey games, but the Duluth Grill isn't far out of the way.
Coach of the year
Katie Rohman, Duluth: The managing editor of the Duluth News Tribune wrote some food columns in January that caught my eye. I followed her column's advice to hit Modern Love in Omaha and she steered me to Duluth Grill when I visited in Duluth. That's 2-for-2 on suggestions ending up on the all-dining team. That's good for coach of the year honors.
Hall of Fame Inductee
Bagel and Deli, Oxford, Ohio: Over 100 different bagels. If you can dream it up, they can make it. This is a must on every trip to Oxford, one of the NCHC's best food and drink towns, and now it's in the all-dining team Hall of Fame.
Hall of Fame members
2015: Cherry Cricket, Denver
2016: Campus Pizza, Minneapolis
2017: Spicy Cajun Hot Dog Vendor, Colorado Springs
2018: Deek's Pizza, Grand Forks
2019: Glacier Brewhouse, Anchorage
2020: Bagel and Deli, Oxford, Ohio