Memories of college hockey

The college hockey season is finally over.

The University of North Dakota did make it to the Frozen Four but not quite into the final game, where Union College beat the University of Minnesota 7-4 for the NCAA championship.

If UND had beaten Minnesota that would have been an interesting matchup of teams and mascots, especially if UND still had theirs. The Fighting Sioux versus the Flying Dutchman would have given plenty to argue about in the political correctness department.

Those against UND dropping its mascot could have pointed to Union’s mascot and asked why they didn’t have to drop it as being demeaning to Dutch men. And this could bring up the question, what about Dutch women?

In answer to the last question, an online search revealed that Union’s women’s teams are called the Dutchwomen.

Apparently no Dutch persons, male or female, have protested the nicknames. But then the Dutch have never been herded onto reservations, nor been regarded as enemies, nor been considered better dead than alive by the majority population here.

As to the Flying Dutchman, this could be regarded as offensive to Jewish people because of the Richard Wagner opera by the same name. Not that the opera itself is anti-Semitic, but Wagner in his personal life was outspokenly so.

Some critics feel his artistic work is tainted by his personal behavior just as some feel Woody Allen’s artistic work is tainted by his personal behavior, such as the alleged sexual abuse of his and Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter when she was seven.

But I digress. Back from opera and movies to college sports.

Union College is an interesting example of how a small school of 2,200 students, Division III in all other sports and offering no athletic scholarships, can field a championship team in Division I against huge schools like Minnesota (50,000 students) which does offer such scholarships.

This would not happen in football, where it takes considerable time and expense to field a good team. Good hockey teams can seemingly just spring up, however, winning national championships. Like the University of Wisconsin.

The Badgers formed a team in the mid-1960s, and soon were knocking off squads with long, storied and successful traditions, like Minnesota, North Dakota and Michigan, winning the national title in 1973, 74, 81, 83, 90 and 2006.

After we moved to North Dakota in 1977, I had fun exchanging letters with my Aunt Julia who lived in Madison and was a big Badger fan in all sports including hockey. By then the Badgers and the Sioux had become bitter rivals, and she and I enjoyed good natured trash talking.

From early on, Badger fans were among the most unruly, with the poorest sportsmanship, like camping out behind the opposing goalie, taunting him and holding up a huge SIEVE sign whenever the Badgers scored on him.

The first hockey game I ever saw was at the University of Minnesota in the early ’60s against, yes, the Fighting Sioux. Surprisingly the Golden Gophers, with like only one Canadian player, won by a large margin.

I got caught up in the flow of action even though I didn’t yet know the rules like off-sides, and I yelled along at UND players in the penalty box, who sometimes gestured back, increasing our heckling.

By the third period there was fairly thick smog over the ice, as during the two breaks everyone lit up out in the hallways and the smoke wafted its way in and settled where it was coldest, giving the action a murky and really old time prize fight atmosphere.

The coach then was John Mariucci, after whom the present Gopher hockey arena is named. And now smoking is not only prohibited, if you go outside to smoke you have to buy another ticket to return to the game.

I wonder, though, if that rule is enforced. It may be like football games back then in old Memorial Stadium, where the loudest cheer at every game was a deafening and extended BOO, containers raised, to the announcement that alcoholic beverages were strictly prohibited.

It was a game ritual everyone seemed to enjoy, including the stadium announcer with his clear, well-timed delivery of precisely same message. Like heckling or trash talking, it was part of the game, part of college sports.

(James Lein is a community columnist for The Minot Daily News)