GRAND FORKS -- Bill Yon’s phone rang Monday.
It was his old college roommate, Mike Guentzel.
It has been tradition for them to speak this particular week.
Guentzel, a University of Minnesota hockey assistant coach, always lined up tickets for Yon to watch their alma mater’s rivalry series against North Dakota.
But not this year.
“It was funny, we started talking about it, and here I am, razzing him about the Gophers coming,” Yon said. “And he was asking me who I’m cheering for.”
This year’s version of arguably college hockey’s most intense rivalry -- which will be played at 7:37 tonight and 7:07 p.m. Saturday in Ralph Engelstad Arena -- has flipped allegiances for three guys who played in it.
Yon, a former Gopher who lives in Roseau, Minn., will cheer on his son Zach, a sophomore forward at UND.
Frank Gersich, a former Minnesota player, will cheer on North Dakota, where his son, Shane, is a star forward.
And Todd Norman, a former UND player, will be cheering on Minnesota, where his son, Ryan, is a junior forward.
It may have been a process to convert them -- Yon says his wife could probably tell you the exact date and time that Bill put on his first piece of North Dakota clothing -- but they’re all used to being on the other side now.
“We have joked about that, how ironic it is that both of our sons ended up at UND,” said Bill, who missed being teammates with Frank at Minnesota by one year. “He thinks it’s a great fit for Shane, just like I think it’s a great fit for Zach.”
Norman, who has a goal and an assist for Minnesota this year, said his father has converted, too.
“My dad will definitely be cheering for us,” Norman said. “He really supports me and everything I’ve done. I remember when I was growing up, he was always cheering for the Sioux against the Gophers when we watched those games together. But I always wanted to be different than my dad and cheer against him. It was entertaining for me, you could say, when I was a young kid.”
Gersich perhaps had more Gopher history in his family than anyone.
Not only did his father play for Minnesota, his Roseau uncles Neal, Paul and Aaron were all superstar Gopher players.
His grandfather, Newell, used be a big Minnesota fan, too, but now attends nearly every UND home game, sometimes carpooling from Roseau with the Yons.
“Obviously, it’s a rivalry I’ve known for a long time and watched growing up,” Shane said. “Now that I’m part of it, it’s pretty special.”
Yon has been asked several times in Roseau about his allegiances this weekend.
He says that’s not a tough one to answer.
Bill will be in Grand Forks on Saturday night, sitting in the UND parent section instead of the Minnesota section with Guentzel’s tickets this time, wearing green and white.
“There’s been a culture at UND that I’ve been thinking about how great it is,” Bill said. “The whole history is great from the start, but you start looking differently at it when you’re a parent. And to have your kid be part of that, it’s pretty special. I’m proud to wear it.”
Aware of rivalry?
Although Minnesota hasn’t come to Grand Forks for six seasons, UND players say that students around campus clearly understand the rivalry.
“I don’t think the rivalry has been lost in the last six years, that’s for sure,” said UND forward Rhett Gardner, who has noticed a buzz on social media. “I think it’s going to be one of the craziest weekends of the last few years. It will be a new experience for all of us. I don’t think it will be like anything we’ve ever seen before.”
‘Better enjoy the experience’
No players on Minnesota’s roster have ever played in the rivalry game in Grand Forks, so how will Gopher coach Don Lucia get them ready for it?
“It’s just another game,” he said. “It’s the old Hoosiers thing. You get out the tape measure and it’s still 200 by 85. Your cell phone number may be printed by a student in the stands. There may be a dead Gopher on the ice. Someone behind the bench might be asking me how ‘12’ got on the team. That’s the fun part. You’ve got to enjoy the atmosphere. That’s the reality of it.
“If you’re going to Alabama, you better enjoy the experience if you’re a football player. If you’re going up there, you better enjoy the experience.”