The Free Press, Mankato, MN

March 18, 2008

Our View: Hockey series was a unifier

Last weekend was wild and wonderful for Minnesota State athletics, highlighted by a thrillingly important three-game men’s WCHA hockey series at the Alltel Center against the Minnesota Gophers. The series is memorable for its timing — the winner earned a Final Five berth — and for the drama. All three games went into overtime, and all three had hockey fans on the edge of their seats.

And maybe a few more avid MSU fans were made. Maybe the Gophers and Mavericks are developing a real rivalry over hockey, not the one-sided affair that had existed until now. Evidence of that may have occurred after Friday’s two-overtime 1-0 Mav victory, when on an online Twin Cities site a frustrated Gophers fan dissed MSU hockey tradition, the Alltel Center and even accused MSU fans of ripping off U of M cheers.

After a victory like that, Mavericks fans had to feel good about getting Gopher fans’ goat. Let them taunt us that Mankato isn’t as “big time” as Minneapolis and that Alltel Center isn’t the snazziest college hockey home in the state. It was a proud moment, anyway, to be an MSU fan and a Mankato resident. We’re here and we’re proud.

This winter, there has been a noticeable upturn in MSU hockey enthuiasm among the fan base. It reminds us that exciting, winning college teams can produce a kind of unique civic pride.

When Mankato West teams qualify for state tournaments, not everyone at East celebrates. And not everyone at West celebrates East victories, either, due to the inter-city rivalry that exists. But every Mankatoan can share in the pride when its college teams perform in extraordinary ways.

The Gophers-Mavs series, in fact, capped an extraordinary week of athletics for MSU. On Friday, MSU’s Katelin Rains broke her own national Division II indoor pole vault record. Historic action took place, as well, in MSU men’s and women’s basketball and wrestling.

So it’s well and good to celebrate MSU sports today, and to appreciate how athletics contributes to a well-rounded institution like Minnesota State. The hockey series, for sure, is good for MSU, good for the Mankato area, and perhaps a sign of more good things to come.

Indeed, though the Mavs didn’t win Game 3, they surely impressed Gopher fans (with the exception of at least one, maybe) with their weekend performance. If it forces Gopher fans to treat us with more respect, all the better.