Ill feelings reach new heights in Tech series

Aaron Kirscht

The rivalry between the Gophers men’s hockey team and Michigan Tech is nearly 70 years old, but it’s hard to believe a couple of old acquaintances could stay angry for so long.
The Huskies whipped Minnesota over the weekend for their first sweep of the Gophers in two decades, winning by a combined score of 10-6. As predicted by coach Doug Woog, the series was physical. But the level of aggression — extending beyond “tough” hockey into a more mean-spirited variety — was unexpected.
Woog stopped short of saying Michigan Tech plays dirty. He was, however, “aggravated” by the style of play the Huskies employed and disappointed that the referees let the situation escalate.
But Woog also said the Gophers are simply frustrated by their inability to build on success, find a strategy that works and stay healthy.
Senior captain Casey Hankinson’s left hand was reinjured on Saturday after taking a slash behind the net in the third period. If he hadn’t been wearing a cast, the thumb would have likely required surgery. The hairline break shifted, and will likely force Hankinson to the sidelines for this weekend’s series against first-place Wisconsin.
Hankinson was quick to point out that he doesn’t want to sound like a sore sport, but he believes that the repeated stick-chops by several Michigan Tech players at his injured hand were intentional.
“You’d think that if someone’s playing with a broken hand or leg or whatever,” Hankinson said, “just out of sportsmanship and knowing that it could happen to you, you wouldn’t go after it on purpose.”
A lot of the apparent bad blood between Minnesota and Michigan Tech may be a result of a run-in, also during the Winter Carnival series in Houghton, Mich., in February 1995. The Gophers set team records for penalties and penalty minutes in a period in the second game of that series.
The violence reached a high when the Huskies’ Jason Prokopetz, now a senior, ran into then-Gophers goaltender Jeff Moen twice, and Minnesota defenseman Jay Moser went to retaliate. But Moser was double-creamed by Prokopetz and another Huskies player, and ended up in the hospital with a swollen left eye that required four stitches.
“That was a pretty severe situation,” Woog said. “Really ugly. I’m sure some guys remember that.”
Hankinson does, and said that incidents like that are rare — except when the opponent is Michigan Tech.
“I can almost guarantee that if we’re playing against a team like North Dakota,” Hankinson said, “that team isn’t going to go after an injury, because they have a lot more respect for the game of hockey. They’ll try to hit you in the corner, but they’ll do it fairly.”
The Gophers aren’t a flock of fluttering angels, of course, skating merrily about in a graceful display of hockey as it was meant to be played; far more penalties are committed by both teams than the referees pick up.
It’s just that some of those penalties — the slashes, in particular — are causing injuries, and the Gophers have suffered plenty. Hankinson’s reinjury came on an uncalled slash. And freshman Aaron Miskovich missed Saturday’s game after taking a stick in his left hand, suffering an injury less severe but similar to the one that kept Ryan Kraft out of the lineup for seven games.
“It’s not just us,” Woog said. “If you call three officials and asked them what’s the worst place to referee a game, they’d say Tech. It’s a tough place to referee because there’s always a potential for trouble.”