The University of North Dakota’s storied college hockey program has fiercely-contested rivalries with both Minnesota and Wisconsin, with those three teams combining to win 18 NCAA titles over the years.
But away from the palatial ice sheet in Grand Forks, the historic rival for the Fighting Sioux in other sports is found when you follow the Red River of the North some 75-plus miles upstream to Fargo, home of the North Dakota State University Bison.
Sioux fans may cringe just a tiny bit if boasting about their hockey program’s seven national championships, as Bison backers can note that their hockey team has eight national titles to its credit. Of course, the titles won by NDSU have been at the college club level, not in the varsity realm.
Still, it’s been a hot topic in the college hockey world for more than a decade, and the opening of the Urban Plains Center has only intensified the talk: When are the Bison going to go Div. I?
NDSU athletic director Gene Taylor seems a bit exasperated when yet another reporter calls asking about his not-yet-existent varsity hockey teams, saying that all of the talk about Bison hockey is coming from outside, not inside, the school’s scenic campus.
The last truly big push for Div. I hockey in the area was in 2000, when the school went as far as taking deposits for hockey season tickets, and a city-wide referendum was put to voters in hopes of building an arena for the Bison. The referendum failed and the idea was dormant for a time.
Eight years and no Div. I team later, John Douglas, the coach of NDSU’s club team, said his focus is on growing a successful program, and that there’s nothing happening on the varsity hockey front right now. The speculation continues, thanks in part to the amateur hockey growth in the area, the school’s location in the heart of WCHA country, and the opening of a new building that could clearly house a college hockey program in the future.
Force coach Dean Blais responded with a bit of nervous, but hopeful, laughter when asked if his dream is to be NDSU’s first varsity hockey coach one day.
“Well, you never know,” he said, admitting to talking hockey with NDSU higher-ups in the past and pitching the idea that a Div. I program could be up and running within five years.
Blais added that there are currently about 2,000 season ticket holders for Sioux hockey who live in Fargo and routinely make the 150-mile round trip drive to see top-level college games in person, so there’s already an established college hockey fan base in the region.
“It’s certainly a possibility for the future,” Blais said.