Tuesday, October 17, 2006

College Hockey's Best Rivalry

One of the things that makes college hockey so special is the intense rivalries between teams. It's something professional sports just can't match. I once went to a regular season game between the Detroit Red Wings and Colorado Avalance at the height of their so-called rivalry. It was a struggle for me to stay awake through the whole game, and judging by the effort from some of the players, they were struggling as well. That's why nothing can compare to the passion, intensity, and electric atmosphere when two archrivals meet in college hockey.

There are a number are a number of outstanding rivalries in college hockey, and one question that seems to get tossed around every year is which rivalry is the best. Well I'm here to make my case for the one I think deserves that prestigious title.

So which is it? Minnesota and Wisconsin? Close, but ultimately, to the outsider it's just two behemoth land-grant colleges that are too close to being identical to make really good drama. Michigan and Michigan State? Here's a helpful tip. If you ever hear a fan from either school bragging about his team's dominance over the other in hockey, you can almost guarantee that his team lost the most recent football match-up between the two. Denver and Colorado College? A little too rich and preppy for my tastes. Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan? A little too nerdy. Minnesota and North Dakota? Sorry Minnesota, you only get one rival.

How about out East? Boston University and Boston College? Sorry, but Boston is a pro sports city. Having lived out east briefly, college sports just aren't as big a deal. Harvard and Cornell? Harvard isn't even the biggest college hockey draw in the Boston area. St. Lawrence and Clarkson? They do have sort of a Duke-UNC thing going on being so close together, but with all apologies to the Clarkson Fan Blog I say "Who"?

Nope. To find college hockey's best rivarly, you have to go way out west. There's no better rivalry in college hockey than the annual tilts between Alaska-Anchorage and the University of Alaska.

On the surface it may not look like much. Anchorage hasn't posted a winning season since joining the WCHA in 1993-1994, and their northern counterparts have never made an NCAA tournament appearance.

The trophy they play for, the Alaska Airlines Governor's Cup, isn't much either. By rule, any trophy loses major points for corporate sponsorship, though Alaska Airline's sponsorship makes a bit of sense since there are no outgoing roads in the state capital of Juneau for the governor to use. It isn't that aesthetically pleasing of a trophy either. There's a small cup placed atop two tiers of wood and gold plating. It looks like more like something you get for winning your bowling league than a hockey trophy.

But this rivalry isn't about national titles or bowling trophies. It's about two schools and two cities that are 360 miles apart in location, and a world apart in terms of culture.

You see, there's really two Alaskas. There's Anchorage, and then there's the rest of the state. In a state with roughly 627,000 people, just over 40% of them live in Anchorage. The rest live in small towns spread around the state, with only two cities going over 30,000, and the rest under 10,000 in population. Fairbanks is the biggest of the little guys, and most able to take on the Goliath to the south.

The differences between the two cities are pretty stark. The average high/low January temperature in Anchorage is a balmy 22/9 degrees. Cold for some, but actually warmer than many colder climates in the lower 48 states. The temperature in Fairbanks is what most people consider more "traditionally Alaskan". The average high temperature in January is a bitter cold -2 degrees, while the average low is -19 degrees.

Anchorage has a lovely Center for the Performing Arts for operas and Broadway musicals. Fairbanks does not. Anchorage has the huge Dimond Center Shopping Mall with a restaurant, and offices, and a bowling alley, and a hotel. Fairbanks does not. Almost of all of Anchorage has regular trash pick-up. Many Fairbanks residents have to take their garbage to "transfer stations" to be collected. Anchorage is one of the top metropolitan areas in terms of educational attainment. Some residents of Fairbanks still rely on subsistence hunting.

That's not to say that one city is better than the other. Anchorage residents view life in Fairbanks as cold, dull, and unsophisticated. Fairbanks residents view Anchorage as too cosmopolitan, and not really Alaskan. Each side sees the positive in their own way of life, and see the negative in the other. And for two weekends a year, that argument gets played out on a hockey rink.

It may not have the magnitude or importance or big market appeal of Minnesota-Wisconsin, or Michigan-Michigan State, or Boston U-Boston College, but at it's heart, Anchorage vs. Fairbanks has a conflict that no other rivalry can match.

29 comments:

Donald said...

Was it two or three years ago that INCH or CHN or USCHO ranked 3 of the UAA/UAF in the top 10 most exciting games of the season?

I don't think it'd matter if one team was #1 and the other #59 ... there is a lot of intensity. These are games the players really want.

You've done a good job of describing the basis of the rivalry.

Anonymous said...

Nice writeup. I'm sold!

Anonymous said...

While

Anonymous said...

You might have had a nice write up and all but saying anchorage v. fairbanks is the best college rivalry is like saying utah v. byu is the biggest rivalry in division 1 football. In my opinion the game has to mean something in order to be a rivalry. Duke/UNC in basketball, Michigan/Ohio State in football those are rivalries with magnitude. To say that BC/BU doesn't count because Boston is a pro sports town ??? Have you ever been to a BC/BU game that wasn't sold out? Do you realize they usually play each other on an annual basis for a minimum of 2 major trophies (last year 4). Not too mention the schools are 2 miles apart and fight over the same recruits every year. Can you imagine Michigan State& Michigan or Minnesota & Wisconsin being 2 miles apart?
I know you are a western hockey apologist and I do enjoy your blog, however I can'y buy this argument.
Nonetheless keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Calling the two Alaska schools as the best rivalry seems almost comedic.

I guess best rivalry means different things to different people. I think the vast majority of people out there look at the best rivalries in far different terms than what is written as reasoning in this blog entry. Very few people are going to consider two programs that never win anything and do not capture the attention of the vast majority of college hockey fans as a top rivalry.

Donald said...

In 7:47's opinion "the game has to mean something in order to be a rivalry" ... I assume he meant to say "great rivalry" but it leaves me asking...

What exactly does a BC/BU rivalry have (that establishes this all important "mean something" factor) other than its own local appeal? Does traffic in Vermont stop for the Beanpot? Do farmers in Iowa hear voices of ghosts from BC/BU games past? Is it true the Chicago lakefront shuts down when BU and BC play?

Donald said...

9:04 thinks that BU and BC "capture the attention of the vast majority of college hockey fans".

That's some funny stuff.

Anonymous said...

I can see were some people would not understand why this is the best rivalry. Unless you follow the schools and lived in one of the city and has delt with the deep rooted bad blood between anchorage and fairbanks. I wish there was more national attention to this great rivalry. thanks for voting the UAA uaf games as the best.

reiver said...

Thanks for the great article Chris. This rivalry is one of hockey's best kept secrets. Wouldn't it be great if CSTV would pick up one of the games for a friday night doubleheader?

Anonymous said...

Alright so I was going to be positive, and still will at first. The article was a total surprise as to how good it was, especially after I went psycho on you earlier for the smack written about UAA. It showed an incredible understanding of some of the issues surrounding this state. This is of huge magnitude to someone who has lived his entire 22yrs in AK. How many states can you drive 360 miles and not even be halfway across the state yet? Or have highways basically going North and South. It is basically impossible for someone who has not lived a significant time in Ak to even begin to understand the place since it is VASTLY different from the other 49 states (and yes we are a state and not Canadian). And no other sporting event can come even close to bringing out the emotions and rivalry of this game. all the other rivalries are good but Mn vs. Wisc. they battle it out in football and basketball and hockey, and yes UAA and UAF play several other sports against each other but in AK no other sports matter that much (except at UAA strangely enough basketball is becoming more popular, WHY???). But to the others who are critical of your choice, they are very ignorant of a place that is as different as a foreign country in so many respects. in fact anchorage is 850 miles from its state capitol if you drive including the 75 mile ferry trip from haines, how can anyone that has never experienced just that small nuance ever begin to understand the greatest college hockey rivalry?

Anonymous said...

Wow, you've got to be kidding. If a game is going to be considered a good rivalry, perhaps it would be nice if one of the teams was decent. No one outside the state of Alaska gives a hoot about a game between these two crapstatic teams. Anyone who tries to argue for this game being a "rivalry" is just being a homer or delusional. We won't be seeing either of these teams in the NCAA tournament in the next 10 years.

I doubt that there is any more heated series in college hockey than those between Wisconsin and Minnesota. Anyone who has attended one of these games can tell you exactly that. The games are extremely heated, the fans are raucous on both sides, and the games acutally MEAN SOMETHING!!!

Donald said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Donald said...

On the contrary. What makes a good rivalry is what the teams do to each other regardless of their records or placement in their leagues or national polls. A good rivalry should include pain. A good rivalry should include bad feelings. What bad feelings do BU and BC have other than ones that are miniscule in their scale compared to the hatred that two CITIES have in their history. BU and BC are just two schools in a city with MANY MANY schools and in an region with MANY MANY college hockey games. I guess those Hahvad folks get all atwitter when BU and BC plays?

The point here isn't that UAA/UAF is "better" but I sure don't see specifically how BU/BC is. UAA/UAF's rivalry is distinctive and unique. BC/BU's rivalry has tremendous local appeal (within about a 10 mile radius).

Lastly ... bigger doesn't mean best. They're two different things. Chris called UAA/UAf ... the "best". All the other rivalries certainly do generate "more" interest. But then those places have "more" people don't they. Personally, I'd say that Minnesota/Wisconsin is the "biggest" rivalry.

As to "best" ... well pretty much anyone in a given region is going to think the rivalry in their area is "best".

Jimjamesak said...

One thing I'd like to add is how much this rivalry is ingrained in Alaska's hockey culture. If you grow up playing hockey here in Anchorage it's driven into you that beating Fairbanks means so much. It's the same way in Fairbanks. Squirts, Pee Wees, Bantams, Midgets, High School, it's the same: Beat Fairbanks. Beat Anchorage. Then some of those kids grow up and play at UAA or UAF and then bring that mentality to their teammates. While not every player at UAA may be from Anchorage and not every player at UAF may be from Fairbanks those that are bring that lifelong intensity, dislike, almost hatred for the other to their teammates. It carries over to the communities as well as those communities are full of those who were raised on the same idea of Beat Fairbanks. Beat Anchorage. Young or old it doesn't matter. That's what makes this rivalry so great. It's not just two teams or two schools that don't like each other it's two communities, two towns. Very few rivalries can bring that.

Anonymous said...

You can certainly tell which posts come from BC and MN fans....

A rivalry is all about the passion that arises in the fan bases affected. Amazing how others outside that sphere of influence pooh-pooh that.

gopher guy said...

Good read. Very tough to pick a #1. All pretty equal in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Maine-UNH?

Anonymous said...

I love reading these so called "Comedic" comments left by uneducated people. Im from Florida, was born there, Played College Baseball there, Im actually flying back in 4 weeks for the Gators V.S Semenoles (lol) game. now thats a rivalry. But I was Raised in Alaska. Live in Alaska. And having witnessed some of the Greatest Rivalry games ever down there in Central Florida, I can attest that when the University of Alaska Anchorage and the U. of Alaska Squarebanks Hockey Teams play eachother, It is a CANT MISS sporting event. Bar None. When Thousands of People hop in there cars, drive 400 Miles to a Crappy City, In the Snow, Through one of the most Dangerous Mountain Passes in North America to watch 2 routinely average to borderline bad College Hockey Teams play, I think you have something special.....

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to mention: Union v. RPI is pretty big.

Anonymous said...

It has to generate the passion and interest of the communnities and region and expand from there.

..also has to be give and take between the 2 sides not completely dominated by the other.

always a fun topic.

outside of my own team(UND) the series I like to watch is the College Hockey Showcase.

gobe said...

As Ron wrote in our blog, you know Clarkson SLU is big when 4000 people come to the women's games. Not sure what the numbers will be like this weekend, but to say "who" to Clarkson v. St. Lawrence is a pretty big slap in the face.

Dan said...

Union -RPI is not big in any sense of the word. no one in the CD cares, mostly because no one in Troy or Schen. even care. by "community", people mean more than just ticket holders and alums....they mean the entire city, state, region...etc.

Anonymous said...

UMTC will always maintain that the their hockey rivalary with Wisconsin is there most important because they don't stand a chance of winning against us in any other sport.

Anonymous said...

UAF vs UAA is the biggest rivalry that i care about, legitimately followed by only Bears vs fudge packers in the NFL


it's really hard to say what the biggest is, because no one can be unbiased in this, but is there another rivalry where people are excited to drive 360 miles(in the snow), pay $150 in hotels, and do basically nothing but go to 2 hockey games in 5000 seat arenas?

justafan said...

For UAA and UAF it is almost more than a rivalry. It's a hate. Even if UAA only wins 2 games in a whole entire season, those two games had better be against UAF.

I'm a long time follower of UAA; losing the cup to UAF every year is just as disheartening as not winning a single game all season. Plus, UAF fans suck. They bring their mascot to OUR arena, sieve our goalie infront of us, and can never know how to correctly find their seats. Some how, every year, I find an ignorant UAF fan in my seat. I've also been very tempted to throw a hot mug of coffee at their disgusting "nanook" mascot a few times.

Great blog.

nooksfan said...

Hatred just about sums it up. Since you find the "Nanook" mascot so hateful, why don't you describe to us what exactly a "Seawolf" is - besides an athlete seemingly incapable of winning a Governor's Cup in this century. Ta!

Anonymous said...

I would say the Minnesota - North Dakota games have become bigger rivalry games in hockey, but only hockey. There is more passion between Soiux/Gopher games than between BAdger/Gopher gam,es, and it isn't even close. Wisco in the rest of the sports, but for the U in hockey it has become the Fighting Sioux (great nem too!).
I am a fan of neither team, so this is one guy's unbiased opinion.

Anonymous said...

Didn't UAF beat and tie UMinn in their barn a fwe years ago?

Anonymous said...

Go Minnesota!!!!
I think that the biggest hockey rivalry is between Minnesota and North Dakota.....I know that I may sound very biased but that is my honest opinion