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History and hostility await as No. 2 Gophers face No. 3 Michigan

There is always a welcoming party on hand inside Michigan's nearly century old home rink, and they're never glad to have visitors come to town. The Gophers are preparing for a tough opponent on the ice along with a vocal and creative student section backing the Wolverines.

 Michigan Wolverines forward Matty Beniers
Minnesota Golden Gophers forward Jaxon Nelson (24) skates with the puck past Michigan Wolverines forward Matty Beniers (10) in the first period at 3M Arena at Mariucci on March 6, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
David Berding / The Rink Live

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Former Minnesota Gophers goalie Jack LaFontaine spent his first two seasons of college hockey as a Michigan Wolverine, so there was some familiarity and some history with the student section at historic Yost Ice Arena when he returned in maroon and gold.

And even he was amazed at the vitriol and the creativity with which it was delivered by the section of fans that call themselves the Children of Yost. After picking up a karma-filled win for the Gophers there, LaFontaine noted that he even heard lots of details about an ex-girlfriend of his over the course of the 40 minutes he spent in that end of the rink.

Welcome to Ann Arbor, which is home to one of the most historic and legendary venues in college hockey, and where visitors receive anything but a warm welcome. Yost was built 99 years ago as a fieldhouse, and converted into a hockey-only facility in 1973. They make use of every square inch, with a combination of bleacher seating and suites for an official capacity of a bit under 6,000. And that corner to the right of the opposing goalie, where the students sit, is notable in its own right.

Yost_Ice_Arena,_Michigan_Ice_Hockey_Game_During_Intermission.jpg
Yost Ice Arena, home of the Michigan Wolverines, is seen in October 2017.
By Kyvuh - Own work, CC0, <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=80245328">https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=80245328</a>

“It’s fun going into places like that where it’s most likely going to be a sold-out crowd, loud in there, hostile. It’s fun,” Gophers captain Brock Faber said. “It will be a great experience for all of us older guys, but especially for the younger guys who haven’t played in a place like that before.”

On the ice, the Gophers (8-4-0 overall) are ranked second in the country, while Michigan (9-3-0) is ranked third, and has seemingly not skipped a beat in its dominating ways, even after the school made a change from Mel Pearson to interim coach Brandon Naurato less than two months before the start of the current season. The headliners are goalie Erik Portillo, who backstopped the Wolverines’ Big Ten tournament title last season, and rookie forward Adam Fantilli , who is averaging nearly two points per night after a dozen games at the college level. The similarities in style and talent to last season’s Frozen Four team are notable.

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After one season as a Wolverines assistant coach, Brandon Naurato was named Michigan's interim head coach for the 2022-23 season on Sunday, Aug. 7, 2022.
Contributed / University of Michigan Athletics

“They look the same to me, watching film. They’re dangerous,” Gophers coach Bob Motzko said. He noted that while the team has been relatively free of physical injuries, a few players have missed practice this week due to illness, with precaution being taken not to have anything spread throughout the locker room. As of Tuesday, the Gophers were unsure whether a full lineup would be available for the Thursday opener at Yost.

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Minnesota captain Brock Faber sent a puck toward the Notre Dame net in the first period of a game between the Gophers and Irish on Saturday, November 5, 2022 at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis.
Bjorn Franke / Gopher Sports

Quartet of future Gophers

Unlike many other schools, the U of M hockey program does not do a big announcement or press release regarding those who make their future Gophers plans official on national signing day. But via social media, the school did announce that four of their committed players signed national letters of intent this week:

  • Beckett Hendrickson is a forward from Minnetonka, currently skating for the USA Hockey National Team Development Program in Michigan. He is the son of former Gophers and Wild forward and 1991 Mr. Hockey winner Darby Hendrickson.
  • Oliver Moore is a forward from Mounds View, currently skating for the USA Hockey National Team Development Program in Michigan. He is renowned for his speed and agility on skates .
  • Max Rud is a defenseman from St. Cloud currently skating for the Sioux Falls Stampede in the USHL. He is the son of long-time coach Eric Rud, who was the top defensive player in the WCHA in the 1990s while skating for Colorado College.
  • Sam Rinzel is a defenseman from Chanhassen currently skating for the Waterloo Black Hawks of the USHL. Noted for his 6-foot-4 frame, Rinzel was picked by the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round (25th overall) in the 2022 NHL Draft.

Weekend details

Thursday’s game at Michigan is a 5:30 p.m. CT start, while the Friday rematch faces off at 5 p.m. CT. Both games will be carried by Big Ten Network , with Ben Holden and Fred Pletsch on the call.

On radio, the Gophers can be heard on 1130 AM / 103.5 FM in the Twin Cities with Wally Shaver and Frank Mazzocco in their 11th season together describing the action.

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Postgame interviews with coach Motzko and Gophers players can be seen live, roughly 10 minutes after the final horn at The Rink Live’s YouTube page .

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The most recent on-ice meeting between the Gophers and Wolverines came last March in the Big Ten’s tournament title game, with Michigan coming from behind to beat Minnesota 4-3 before a sold out and raucous audience at 3M Arena at Mariucci. Their first two meetings were almost a century ago, with the Gophers prevailing 2-0 and 3-0 in games played in Minneapolis on Jan. 22-23, 1923. Minnesota leads the all-time series 150-133-18.

Jess Myers covers college hockey, as well as outdoors, general sports and travel, for The Rink Live and the Forum Communications family of publications. He came to FCC in 2018 after three decades of covering sports as a freelancer for a variety of publications, while working full time in politics and media relations. A native of Warroad, Minn. (the real Hockeytown USA), Myers has a degree in journalism/communications from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He lives in the Twin Cities. Contact Jess via email at jrmyers@forumcomm.com, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
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