Omaha and North Dakota, Rivalry in the Making?

Photo Credit: Eric J. Burton, Sin Bin Photography

Omaha and North Dakota, Rivalry in the Making?

North Dakota

Omaha and North Dakota, Rivalry in the Making?

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Whether or not fans from Omaha and the University of North Dakota want to acknowledge it, the series between North Dakota and Omaha is becoming a rivalry series. Based on what transpired on the ice the past two seasons, neither team will be sending the other team Christmas cards or texting them to hang out.

If there is an in-person NCHC conference meeting this summer, it would be interesting to see where the two head coaches sit. Probably won’t be sitting next to each other. See the video embedded below.

I’ve heard all of the arguments, for and against. Sure, it’s not as attractive of a matchup as the Minnesota Gophers, Boston College, Boston University, Wisconsin Badgers, or even the Denver Pioneers for that matter, but this is a rivalry. Currently, DU and UMD are UND’s top league rivals. I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Like it or not, the Mavericks aren’t going away. The NCHC decided that UND and UNO will play four games every season.

In case you forgot, stick tap to the college hockey guru Brad Schlossman, the NCHC travel partners are as follows: UND-Omaha, Western Michigan-Miami, Minnesota Duluth-St. Cloud State and Denver-Colorado College. Nope, they’re not going away.

A Series Dominated by UND

The two schools have played 42 games against each other, UND owns a 27-14-1 (.642) record against the Mavericks. This season, UND is 3-1-0 (.750) against the Mavericks outscoring them 21-9. Since the end of the 2018-19 season, UND is 26-1 at Ralph Engelstad Arena, UND’s only loss was at the hands of the Mavericks (3-6 L) on January 10, 2020.

Shall We Have This Dance

On Saturday, at the 19:01 mark of the third period, there was a line brawl in front of the penalty boxes. To no one’s surprise, Omaha’s Joey Abate was right in the middle of it.

When it was all said and done, UNO’s Noah Prokop and UND’s Gabe Bast were both assessed five-minute majors and game disqualifications for fighting. The penalty boxes were full and both head coaches were screaming at each other. When the final box scored was posted the two teams had racked up an impressive 104 minutes in penalties, 63 for Omaha and 41 for UND. Looks like a rivalry to me.

After Saturday’s game, UND head coach Brad Berry was asked why the games between the Mavericks and the Hawks are so spirited. Again, Berry took an even-keeled approach.

“Well, I think they both play hard, Berry said. “They are both hard, heavy, physical teams. Omaha has had a lot of success this year. They’re a team that’s on the rise. They’ve done a good job winning games.  It’s a situation where you’re jockeying in the standings. We’re all trying to get top four. We’re all trying to win the Penrose and when you got two teams that are at the top of the conference, they’re going at it. That’s what happens. It’s no different from year-to-year.”

UND hasn’t seen the last of the Mavericks. UND has two more games against them to close out the regular season. Next weekend, the Fighting Hawks travel to Omaha to play a single game against the Mavericks. The following weekend, the Mavericks make the trip up I-29 to finish off the regular season.

“I think it has something to do with coming down the stretch playing six of our last eight against them, knowing that they stood in the way of our success, and then winning the Penrose that is part of it and definitely fueled the fire,” senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi said.

The season has been a grind and there are no easy games in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. UND looks battle-tested and ready to go.

Make no mistake about it, the four games between UND and UNO have been a war. Just think, we have another 120 minutes of this. Yes, there’s going to be some hurt feelings when it’s over.

“You know I firmly believe the NCHC makes you battle-tested and ready for the postseason,” Berry said. “It’s a situation where teams grind each other out throughout the regular season. Towards the end of the year when it culminates into the NCAA Tournament. I think that’s why you see a lot of the NCAA champ successes because you’re going through that gauntlet of teams throughout the year.”

A Look Back 

Last March, in the post-game press conference following a heated split between UND and UNO, Omaha head coach Mike Gabinet didn’t take the high road, “I didn’t like a couple of our penalties that we took at the end of the game, but I also have some empathy for of our guys. We played these guys three times, we got three concussions. At the end of the day, these guys are a very tight-knit group in there. They really care about each other. It’s hard when you see teammates constantly go down with concussions – with injuries.

“We’ve lost four guys in four games against these guys. I think frustrations boiled over there. Obviously, it was a three-nothing game. So, we wanted to get back in the game. We don’t want to take retaliatory penalties. That’s not good. I also have some empathy for our players.”

You can see the rivalry has been simmering for a while.

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