There's no bigger rivalry in college hockey than North Dakota and Minnesota.
And there was no better stage than the old Western Collegiate Hockey Association Final Five at St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center, where fans would pack the 18,000-seat venue. With half of the arena UND fans, and the other half Gopher supporters, the two fan bases would trade chants and barbs throughout the game in an electric atmosphere.
The rivals met four times on that stage, and they were all classics.
The final meeting before the conference split up — with Minnesota going to the Big Ten and North Dakota to the National Collegiate Hockey Conference — happened in March 2012. It was one of UND hockey's most memorable games of the last two decades.
This is an oral history of the game in the words of those who were a part of it.
A decimated roster
UND lost numerous key players from the previous year's team: Matt Frattin, Brad Malone, Evan Trupp, Jason Gregoire, Brett Hextall, Brent Davidson, Chay Genoway, Jake Marto and Derrick LaPoint. In the summer, the team's top recruit, first-round draft pick J.T. Miller, signed with the New York Rangers before stepping foot on campus. UND's other star recruit, Rocco Grimaldi, suffered a knee injury before the season and only played four games. Another recruit, Colten St. Clair was ruled ineligible because of an unforeseen issue with his high school transcript. And captain Mario Lamoureux separated his shoulder the week before the first game and played with it the entire year.
Ben Blood (senior alternate captain): I just remember going into the season like, all of those guys are gone, wow.
Carter Rowney (junior forward): When you're a North Dakota team, you're always pretty confident in your team, because no matter who you lose, you know the recruits are going to be top-notch players. They get players that are character guys that are going to go to war with you every night. That was the pride about being at North Dakota.
Mario Lamoureux (senior captain): The leadership group of the team, we sat down before the season and said, 'How do we get started off on the right foot?' There were not a lot of guys around in the summer like the past. We knew our training camp had to be top notch. We had to push each other. There's a standard we play at and a standard we expect to finish by the end of the year. We wanted to be a top team in the country. Myself, being one of the few older guys, felt a lot of internal pressure to make sure we had a good season. Then, the first half of the year didn't go the way anyone would want.
Nick Mattson (freshman defenseman): We got off to a slow start. Then, we had a ton of injuries. We ended up having a bunch of guys playing out of position. Joe Gleason was playing right wing. Dan Senkbeil was playing forward. We couldn't even field a full lineup.
Joe Gleason (junior defenseman): I remember waking up, any given day of the week, the conversations I would have with Hak (head coach Dave Hakstol) would be: What position am I going to play today?
Lamoureux: We were so depleted. I remember we were playing in St. Cloud and had a bunch of guys hurt. During the postgame meal, I turned to Corban (Knight) and said, 'Half our lineup is playing with a relatively serious injury right now.'
Jayson Hajdu (sports information director): One of the jobs of the SID is to get the linechart from the coach before games. At the end of that year, you'd get the lineup and go, 'Oh boy.' You had a walk-on playing defense. You had multiple defensemen playing forward, one of which was a walk-on defenseman. And you still didn't have enough to fill out your forward lines. You wondered, when will they hit a wall? When will it be too much? You lost Rocco. You lost Derek Rodwell. You lost Brendan O'Donnell. You lost Taylor Dickin. It just kept chipping away at the depth. How many hits can this roster withstand?
Dave Hakstol (head coach): It was crazy. I've never seen anything like it. How many games did we play without a full lineup that season? A dozen? More? But it was the perfect group to do it. It was the perfect group to take on that challenge.
Lamoureux: Corban came up with the whole 'Burn the Ships' motto at the start of the year. We were going to win or die. Nothing else was accepted. We were not going to use any excuse. We were going to do anything we could to be national champions at the end of the year. That's how we lived every day that year. We were all in. We had guys that stepped up and filled roles offensively and depth roles. We got contributions from people we didn't expect. We had everyone pulling on the rope in the same direction. I'm sure there was a lot of outside noise saying we shouldn't have been that successful. It goes back to the saying of what you can accomplish when you don't give a crap what anyone else thinks you should be. We played with that attitude all year.
Hakstol: We had an absolutely loaded team of character and leadership. You start at the top of the pyramid. You've got Andrew MacWilliam. You've got Corban Knight. You've got Mario Lamoureux. You've got Bloody. . . it was just loaded with character and guys that just didn't know any different than finding a way to win.
Dane Jackson (assistant coach): It was kind of an us-against-the-world mentality. We would take B-Nels (Brock Nelson) and double shift him on the fourth line with Senks and (Connor) Gaarder. I remember everyone embraced that underdog role. We were undermanned. We were a plucky bunch. We had one really good line and a bunch of guys that took advantage of their roles.
Mattson: There was kind of a mystique about starting slow and finishing strong. I remember around Christmas, that was kind of the constant messaging was that North Dakota always finished strong. That was the atmosphere around the locker room. That's what we were talking about. We eventually got a swagger. We felt like we had it in us, because that was the history of the program. Mentally, that went a long way toward it.
Rowney: We went on a pretty good run. Going into the Final Five, we were on the cusp of making the national tournament. Things started clicking. We started getting bounces. The group was growing together. Everyone bought in. We became as close of a group off the ice as we were on the ice. That's one thing that's awesome about North Dakota is how tight the groups are. In the second half, we started clicking.
The Final Five showdown
UND started 4-7-1 but went 18-5-2 in its next 25 games, earning a trip to the Final Five. The top three seeds, No. 1 Minnesota, No. 2 Minnesota Duluth and No. 3 Denver all received byes to the semifinals. UND and St. Cloud State had to play a quarterfinal game Thursday night. UND beat the Huskies 4-1, setting up what turned out to be the last North Dakota-Minnesota game at the Final Five.
Derek Forbort (sophomore defenseman): If you asked me about any other game, I wouldn't remember it. But that game, I remember.
Blood: Those games are so intense. So intense. It's almost like rage. It's just so competitive and stuff boils over.
Lamoureux: Minnesota-North Dakota in general was so much hatred and energy. There was good energy, bad energy. It was hatred between the programs. Then you go to the Final Five and you have everyone on vacation and having a good time and it was really amped up even more. We drive up to the Xcel Center and bars are packed, there are lines wrapping around the building. Then the game starts and they absolutely throttled us for half the game. I was like, 'We're going to get killed.'
Forbort: We were getting absolutely dominated.
Mattson: I remember very vividly was sitting on the bench thinking, 'Oh my God, we are getting absolutely dominated. I can't get anything going here. Every time I touch the puck, I feel like I have two guys on me.' It was one of those games, as a player, you're trying to get yourself going, but it feels like you have nothing in the tank. It felt like that game was as over as a game could be during the second period.
Minnesota outshot UND 12-2 in the first period and led 1-0. At the midway point in the game, the Gophers led 3-0 and UND had just four shots on goal.
Jackson: I remember it being bad. They were flying around like the '84 Oilers.
Rowney: We were getting blown out. I don't think we were even in contention in shots. It was like, 'Holy cow, these guys are coming at us right now.'
Gleason: It was basically 'hit the red and get it deep.'
Tim Hennessy (radio play-by-play announcer): A lot of people don't realize how good (goalie) Aaron Dell was early in that game. He was so good. It could have been a lot to. . . not nearly enough.
Hakstol: Honestly, I was thinking, 'We've got to find a way to get through this with a Sioux-like prideful effort.' We had been such a prideful group all year.
Hennessy: We had a TV timeout when Minnesota was up 3-0 and I remember Oly (color commentator Steve Olson) was going, "We're playing like crap" and blah, blah. I said, "Hey, look at what they've done with the lineup they've had and everything else. Cut them a little bit of slack."
Mattson: We had been in so many tough situations throughout that year. As you go into a tough situation and come out on the other side and succeed, you just know what it takes. Obviously, we were by no stretch of the imagination the most talented team. I just think we were so battle-hardened by that time of year.
With 5:53 left in the second period, UND iced the puck. Hakstol called timeout to rest tired players. At that point, the Gophers led 3-0 and shots on goal were 23-6 Minnesota. After the timeout, UND outshot Minnesota 21-2 the rest of the game.
Rowney: Hak took the timeout because we were tired. There wasn't much said.
Blood: We didn't even discuss anything on the bench. There wasn't a huge 'rah-rah' speech.
Mattson: It wasn't some great Knute Rockne moment by any means.
Hakstol: There was a TV timeout after they went up 3-0. That's where quite a few things were said on the bench about pushing through, forgetting about what the venue is and everything else and just playing the game and playing with pride. That had been our group all year long. It was, 'Let's just find a way to push ourselves a little bit.' That was all at the TV timeout. The timeout we took after the icing. . . there was literally next to nothing said. It had been said a minute or two before that.
Just 44 seconds after the timeout, Forbort got the puck at the left point. He hammered a point shot that hit a Minnesota defender, rang off the post and went in. That goal made it 3-1 Minnesota with 5:09 left in the second.
Hakstol: We had barely touched the puck. I don't know what shots were, but to this day, I've never been part of, nor have I maybe seen, a game with a greater turnaround than that one from the first 35 minutes to the last 25 minutes. We didn't have it. We looked like we had played the night before. We looked like a tired hockey team and we were chasing it the entire first half of the game. Then, the first goal went in. Forbs scored. It was a nothing play.
Forbort: Mario kind of gave me this little pass. I was just trying to get a shot off and get it to the net. I can't remember if it hit something, but it was definitely one of the more fun goals I've scored in my career, especially knowing what it led to.
Rowney: That obviously got us going. We got a little more belief and confidence going. We started piling shifts over shifts.
Mattson: I think without that goal, we would have had absolutely zero energy or excitement going into that intermission. It's so hard to come out down 3-0 and turn the tide in the third. That goal just gave us life. I don't remember it being a super energetic locker room, but it gave us enough light to see a possible comeback.
Lamoureux: I'll leave out a couple of words, but one thing that was said in the intermission was "why not?" It just kind of felt like it loosened everyone up. That became our motto going into the next week.
After putting on heavy pressure to start the third, UND made it a 3-2 game when Rowney attempted a wraparound, it went off of Michael Parks' skate and in the net at 5:31.
Rowney: That play, I just did a wraparound and Parksy was going to the net. I think it went off his skate. It was lucky to go in and you get a lot more excitement. You can see the game starting to turn the other way. We had a lot of belief in our bench that we were going to be able to come back.
Blood: I remember looking at their bench and there was lots of time left and they were still winning, but I remember looking at their bench and they had nothing going. They looked dead in the water. I was like, 'We're going to win this game. They have nothing. Their bench isn't going. Their coaches look like they've shriveled up.'
Hajdu: When Parksy got that one, it was just a tidal wave of momentum. It was incredible. Pucks started going in left and right.
With the public address announcer still announcing Parks' goal, Nelson knocked a puck out of mid-air, settled it on the ice in the left circle and picked the corner of the net to tie it. Nelson's goal came 30 seconds after Parks scored.
Lamoureux: There's a reason the guy is making a lot of money in the NHL. He made a big-time play. He goes and scores a really nice goal and all of the sudden, no way we're stopping. No way we're going to let our foot off the gas. You could feel the energy getting sucked right out of them.
Mattson: It was fitting for our team. Brock was a first-round draft pick who was on the ice with two freshman walk-ons. Brock's obviously a special player and that was such a cool, surreal moment when he made that play. We were dead in the water 30 minutes before that and now we've got a tie game.
Jackson: The building was at least half Sioux fans. Before you knew it, it seemed like it was all Sioux fans, because they were all so boisterous and so into it. It felt like they knew they were witnessing history. The energy was just palpable and you felt it in your bones. It just kept snowballing and snowballing.
Lamoureux: We could feel the trash talk going on from Minnesota fans to ours. And for us to turn it around, and for our fans to look at them and be like, 'What's up now?' that felt pretty cool.
Mattson: It was complete pandemonium. It was one of the loudest buildings I've ever played in.
UND took the lead 4-3 just 3:41 after Nelson's goal. Freshman walk-on Stephane Pattyn carried the puck behind the net, made a sharp cut back to lose Gopher defenseman and future NHLer Mark Alt, and centered a pass to Lamoureux, who was surrounded by three Gopher players.
Lamoureux: Pattyn was driving wide and I know for me, it's about getting to the net. That's where I always scored goals. He made a nice cutback move and throws one in front. It went off my shaft and I knocked it in. It felt like a huge personal relief for me, because at that point, I only had one goal in the season. It felt good, and with what was on the line, that was probably one of the most memorable goals I ever scored.
Hajdu: No play better symbolizes that game than that one. It was Mario, on the doorstep, with three Gophers around him, and he was the one that got his stick on the puck. That goal was the perfect crystallization of that whole game.
Mattson: Mario was such a great leader. I think he's a huge reason why we were able to go on the run we did with the lineup and the amount of injuries we had. He took the team and put them on his back, not necessarily goals-wise, but instilling his character and attitude in the rest of the team. Obviously, it was so great to see him have that big of a night in probably our biggest game of the season. It was perfect.
Hakstol: I do remember after one of the goals, I'm not sure which one, taking a second to look around the building. The surge and feeling in the building was something that's irreplaceable. That rivalry, when you look throughout pro sports or college sports, may not have the greatest numbers involved, but in terms of intensity, it's as intense as any rivalry that exists in sport. I remember taking a look at the building and thinking, 'Holy crap, look at this.' It was unbelievable.
Hennessy: We had another TV timeout in the third and Oly looks at me and says, "I guess you were right." That was pretty funny. I didn't say they were going to come back and win the game. I just said to cut them some slack, but that was one of the funniest moments when Oly said, "Uh, I guess you were right."
Just 14 seconds after Lamoureux's go-ahead goal, Minnesota defenseman Jake Parenteau was called for cross-checking. It was Minnesota's only penalty of the game. UND scored 23 seconds into the power play, when Knight tipped a Mattson point shot. That made it 5-3 UND. It was UND's fourth goal in less than five minutes.
Mattson: My shot was probably going like six feet to the left of the net and Corban made an unbelievable tip. I'll always remember his celebration. For a pretty stoic guy, he was so fired up. What a great moment. There's a picture of it hanging in The Ralph. It's one of my favorite pictures to walk by. That's the one celebration I remember the most clear from any of my teammates in my four years there.
Lamoureux: Corban is the most humble, modest, level guy you could possibly find. He doesn't celebrate when he scores. To see the emotion come out of him. . . that got me super fired up. What a great moment that was.
Gleason: Corban goes to the knee and celebrates. He never celebrated. It was one of those moments, for him, where you can't control your emotions. Everyone else felt like, 'OK, we've really done something crazy here,' when you see that happen. If it was (Danny) Kristo, you wouldn't have thought anything. But to see Knighter go down on a knee, double fist-pump, it's a different feeling.
UND tacked on a sixth goal with 3:50 left in the game, when Lamoureux drilled home a long rebound off the end wall. Lamoureux had one goal on the season entering that game. He scored twice in that period.
Lamoureux: I'll always remember my sisters told me my grandma was crying in the stands. It was a pretty cool moment for us.
Forbort: That was a high I've never experienced before. You have so much energy you don't get tired on the ice. Momentum is a crazy thing. You could feel it. It was pushing you. There was no stopping it.
Hakstol: It's interesting how you react when your back is against the wall. You have two choices. That team just continually made the choice that they weren't going to be denied. Again, a big piece of that comes back to your core leadership. Looking back on it now, look at who they are. Rattle off the rock-solid character leaders in that group.
Hajdu: The leadership group on that team doesn't get enough credit. You had Mac, Blood, Steph Pattyn, Dillon Simpson, Mario, Corban. . . they were outstanding leaders. They kept things steady when they had every reason to fold the tent.
UND won 6-3. After Hakstol's timeout, UND had six goals, Minnesota had two shots on goal. It was out of character for the Gophers, who entered the night as the WCHA's best third-period team (plus-33) and with an 18-1 record when leading after two periods.
Mattson: It was just the craziest game. I've never seen a game or played in a game that was so one-sided for the first 35 minutes and then to have it completely flip on its head. . . it was just bizarre. We were so thoroughly dominated and then completely flipped the script. You don't see games like that.
Rowney: I've played a lot of hockey in a lot of different leagues and that's still one of the best moments I've ever experienced.
Forbort: After the game, that was just an electric locker room. That's a feeling I'll hold with me forever.
Mattson: That postgame really stands out to me, because that was one time after a game, where Hak looked completely like he was soaking in the moment. I don't remember his speech, but I remember him hanging out in the locker room and it looked like he was enjoying the moment, watching us players celebrate. That definitely stood out to me, because he was the most mission-focused coach I ever played for. He checked off one box, then moved to the other. But he was reveling in that moment and enjoying it.
Gleason: Hakstol's reaction following that game was probably one of the most memorable things I've ever gone through as a hockey player, because he's a guy that shows zero emotion. After that game, he was just another guy in the locker room. He might as well have had gear on the way he expressed himself and the excitement he had from that game and that comeback. It was only about 60 seconds. But that's about 59 seconds longer than I thought he'd express himself. It's one of those memories stuck in my head forever.
Hajdu: I can't remember who I was sitting next to in the press box. It might have been Erik Martinson. But I remember, once it was clear what the outcome of the game was going to be, I said, "I can't wait to go out in downtown St. Paul after this game." I remember we went somewhere, grabbed a booth, looked at each other and said, "What the hell did we just witness?"
Finishing the job
UND still had to come back the next day and play in the WCHA championship game against Denver. It completed the task and beat the Pioneers 4-0 to become the first team to win three-straight Broadmoor Trophies. UND played the entire postseason without being able to field a full lineup.
Lamoureux: We went into the Denver game. . . we felt like we had so much confidence. I think we knew we were going to win before we ever put our skates on.
Blood: We would have beaten anyone the next day.
Mattson: It wasn't arrogance. It was an air of. . . 'no chance we're going to lose.' We weren't taking Denver lightly. It was just such a confidence and a swagger that the result almost seemed pre-determined. We knew we had it in us. It just seemed like there was never a doubt we were going to win that game.
Forbort: The boys were humming at that point. We didn't have the most talented team, but we had a gritty group of guys pulling in the same direction and we all loved each other. It was awesome.
Lamoureux: Even though everyone counted us out at the start of the year, we had all the injuries, people playing hurt. . . we would not accept not trying to be one of the best teams in the country. There's a standard in that locker room and there's a standard for the program. We would not accept anything less than being the absolute best. Of all the teams I ever played on, that was probably the top as far as groups that meant the most to me. Obviously, I was the captain. But you had guys playing through injuries. You had guys pushing each other through ups and downs. It was heart and soul.