Rivalries rekindled at Showcase

The Gophers play at Michigan and Michigan State this weekend.

Chris Lempesis

Aside from the colors of the jerseys, there aren’t a whole lot of differences between Minnesota’s men’s hockey team and the Michigan Wolverines.

Both schools have won a pair of national championships in the past decade, both have turned out their fair share of NHL products and both are among the top college hockey programs in the nation.

These similarities become even more remarkable when looking at the results when the teams meet face to face.

Including NCAA tournament games, the Gophers and Wolverines have compiled an 8-8-0 record against each other since the start of the 1993-1994 season.

Two-thirds of those games have been played as a part of the annual College Hockey Showcase. That’s where the seventh-ranked Gophers (6-3-3 overall) and top-ranked Wolverines (9-1-1) will meet at 7 p.m. Friday at Yost Arena in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Minnesota will play at No. 18 Michigan State (5-5-3) at 6 p.m. Saturday also as part of the Showcase.

“It’s always good to play (Michigan) because they’re always in it there right at the end,” junior forward Ryan Potulny said. “They’re always in the NCAAs. So it’s fun to play those guys halfway through the year.”

Although the teams are not in the same conference ” Michigan is a member of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association ” Minnesota and Michigan have developed quite a rivalry since the start of the Showcase in 1993-1994, splitting the 12 Showcase contests.

But perhaps a more important aid to the rivalry’s development stems from the fact that the teams have met four times in the NCAA tournament in the same span of time. Again, the teams split the contests.

Minnesota came out on top in a pair of Frozen Four semifinals ” in 2002 and 2003 ” in the years it won its back-to-back national titles. Michigan claimed victory in a pair of regional finals in the 1996 and 1997 seasons.

Those four tournament games were decided by a total of six goals. In fact, the Gophers won the 2002-2003 semifinal in overtime by a 3-2 count.

As senior defenseman P.J. Atherton put it, “rivalries develop of the course of great games and over great battles.”

And with the Gophers and Wolverines once again both perched in the top 10 for Friday’s game, another close, hard-fought battle could be in the offing.

It can probably be expected.

“It’s always fun to go into Yost Arena,” Atherton said. “It’s going to be a great test for us.”

Gophers sign six

After Saturday night’s 4-3 win over Denver, Minnesota announced the names of the six players who have signed national letters of intent to play for the Gophers for the 2006-2007 season.

Minnesota signed three forwards and three defensemen during the early signing period.

The three forwards include Ryan Flynn (6-3, 212 pounds), currently a member of the U.S. National Development Under-18 team; Michael Carman (6-0, 179 pounds), also a member of the U-18 team; and Kyle Okposo (6-1, 205 pounds), a member of the Des Moines Buccaneers of the United States Hockey League.

The three defenseman include Erik Johnson (6-5, 227 pounds), a member of the U-18 team along with Flynn and Carman; David Fischer (6-3, 175 pounds), a senior on Apple Valley High School’s squad; and Kevin Wehrs (5-10, 170 pounds), a member of the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders of the USHL.