This past weekend, the University of North Dakota hosted the University of Wisconsin in men’s hockey.
This is the next to last season of their league, the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, with members of the Big Ten — Wisconsin and Minnesota — in the league. The Big Ten is sponsoring hockey beginning in 2013–14, with the WCHA’s Minnesota and Wisconsin, the Central Collegiate Hockey Association’s Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State, and the new Penn State hockey program.
Today is the 30th anniversary of one of the more infamous yet amusing moments in college hockey — the North Dakota–Wisconsin Water Bottle Fight. On a Saturday night in January 1982 at the Dane County Coliseum in Madison, the Badgers were leading the Fighting Sioux 3–0 in the third period.
The Grand Forks Herald picks up what happened next from the perspective of Sioux co-captain Cary Eades:
Eades skated past the Wisconsin bench on his way to make a line change. Wisconsin’s John Newberry squirted Eades in the face with a water bottle — for the second time during the game.
“Their door was open, so I went in to have a talk with him,” Eades said.
Eades proceeded to put his stick up near Newberry’s throat and ask the Badger forward what he was going to do now. Wisconsin defenseman Pat Ethier saw this exchange, ran down the bench and landed a punch on Eades that set off everything.
Watch the Wisconsin and North Dakota versions of “everything” that followed:
This was neither the first nor the last time the Badgers and Fighting Sioux (the nickname was natural) had squared off on the ice. One year earlier in Grand Forks, the two teams got into a fight during pregame warmups. This was, however, the event that prompted the largest number of suspensions from the WCHA.
A member of the UW Band was in the beer garden (behind the two teams’ benches, which were divided by the tunnel into the beer garden) when a Badger and a Fighting Sioux (based on the Herald story, I’m guessing it was Jim Archibald, UND’s — surprise! — all-time penalty leader) rolled into the beer garden. The band member took one look at the Fighting Sioux and one look at his beer, and deposited the beer into the Boy Named Sioux’s facemask.
The 30-years-later comments from Eades, now an assistant coach for the (literally) Fighting Sioux, fit into the maybe-you-should-have-thought-of-that-at-the-time category:
While everyone remembers the brawl, Eades prefers to think about and talk about the other aspects of the rivalry that season. …
“From my personal standpoint, (the brawl) kind of overshadows a lot of good things I accomplished in my college career,” Eades said. “I was very fortunate to have a lot of good teammates and good seasons, but that’s the only thing anyone wants to talk about. I’d rather talk about the four goals in one period, but there’s no video of that. The fights and controversy and uproar are what people talk about at the hockey games and the beverage places afterward.
“Hopefully, with the 30 years, we can put it in a casket and bury it.”
The other aspects of the rivalry were epic in a different way. Wisconsin finished second to North Dakota in the WCHA regular season, but swept North Dakota in the WCHA finals in Grand Forks. The Fighting Sioux had 1982’s last laugh, though, beating Wisconsin 5–2 to win the NCAA title in Badger coach Bob Johnson’s final game before he headed to the NHL.
One year later, the WCHA semifinals (in the pre-Final Four/Five days) pitted, once again, Wisconsin against North Dakota in another two-game total-goal series. After a first-night tie, the Badgers tied the second game in the last minute of the third period, sending the game into overtime. And then another overtime. And then a third overtime. And then it got weird.
The Badgers’ Ted Pearson scored to win the game in the third overtime. Or so it seemed, until North Dakota challenged the curvature of Pearson’s stick. (Stick curvature is limited by hockey rule.) The stick was found to be illegal, so the goal was taken off the scoreboard and Pearson was sent to the penalty box. Not to be denied, however, the Badgers’ Paul Houck scored a short-handed goal about 30 seconds later, this time with a legal stick, ending the Fighting Sioux’s season.
The NCAA Frozen Four was held that year in … Grand Forks. Two WCHA teams were there — Wisconsin and Minnesota, a bigger rival for North Dakota than Wisconsin. So UND fans wore buttons with Wisconsin Ws that said “This Sioux’s for You.” Wisconsin never got to play Minnesota (unlike in 1981, when the Badgers beat the Gophers to win the NCAA title), but defeated Providence 2–0 and Harvard 6–2 to win the third of Wisconsin’s five NCAA titles.
That occurred the year before I went to UW. My last year at UW coincided with the first year of the WCHA Final Four, in St. Paul in 1988. Wisconsin beat North Dakota 2–1 in the Sunday afternoon semifinal, advancing the Badgers to the Monday night championship game against the Sunday night semifinal winner, Minnesota.
Monday afternoon was the third-place game between North Dakota and Minnesota–Duluth. Having nothing better to do, a group of us in the UW Band went to the third-place game and sat in with the North Dakota band during the second intermission. We borrowed their trumpets and, instead of their playing whatever they’d play to start the third period, we played “On Wisconsin.” The boos reverberated through the half-empty St. Paul Civic Center. It was great.
The Herald reports that North Dakota and Wisconsin have agreed to continue playing nonconference series after the Badgers head for the Big Ten in 2013–14. Which is good news. It would be a shame to lose a rivalry in which the two teams occasionally hate each other.