The Minnesota home crowd for Saturday’s Big Ten men’s hockey title game between the Gophers and Michigan, foreshadowed as a sellout in Patrick Reusse’s column late last week, delivered as advertised.
An attendance of more than 10,000 was announced, and even though many left disappointed by the 4-3 Michigan victory it mattered little in the big picture. The Gophers on Sunday still secured the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament.
They are four wins away from the program’s first NCAA title since going back-to-back in 2002 and 2003. Along the way, they have earned both national and local attention — the latter perhaps being harder to garner than the forward given how crowded our sports landscape continues to be.
As Reusse and I talked about on Monday’s Daily Delivery podcast, the Gophers are the perfect example of how a team can emerge and ascend within that pack.
There are plenty of tiers in Minnesota sports, but there are also clearly tiers. My take:
The Vikings are at the top, and nothing has more than temporarily knocked them from that spot since Randy Moss arrived in 1998.
The Twins tend to sit at No. 2, and like the Vikings it’s hard to move them from that spot.
Beyond that, there are several teams that rise and fall in the public consciousness. The Wolves, Wild, Gophers football and Gophers men’s basketball start from fairly sizable bases and therefore have an easier time climbing to No. 3 with success (or even higher in temporary, special occasions).
For all other teams, it takes time, huge success or a special story to gain and sustain prominence. The Lynx were a prime example of this in the 2010s, winning four WNBA titles with a team that was both ultra-talented and likeable. The Gophers women’s basketball team’s trip to the Final Four in 2004 is another example, while the continued excellence of the Gophers women’s volleyball team has raised that program’s profile.
Minnesota United has reached the MLS playoffs in four straight seasons, but while the Loons draw well and have a passionate core of fans they have yet to deliver one signature moment or season in their short time as a top pro club that would propel them more fully into mainstream conversation.
Gophers men’s hockey? That’s a program with a longstanding fan base, part of which went dormant during a period of mediocrity. The low point came four years ago when fewer than 2,000 fans showed up for a pair of playoff games.
But this year’s team has everything: A dominant top line, a deep blue line and plenty of goaltending.
For all the marketing and planning a team might do to try to win its share of fans in Minnesota, having a dynamic group that wins at a high level will always trump all else.
I’m not quite sure yet where the Gophers are in the local pecking order. But if they come back from Fargo with two wins, they’ll have worked their way into the top 5 for at least a little while.
While I appreciate Sam Farmer’s reporting, I respectfully disagree when he writes: “Professional golf’s brief but intense battle is over.” If anything
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