On Saturday night, Denver defeated the University of North Dakota 4-1 to win its second straight national championship in ice hockey.

Ken Srdjak

Since Michigan had been expelled from the NCAA Tournament three weeks ago in an excruciating 4-3 loss to Colorado College, most students here in Ann Arbor could have cared less. But not me.

As a North Dakotan myself, I kept an eye on the score all night. I certainly didn’t watch much of the game since I can barely call myself a hockey fan. If there isn’t a “Michigan” on one of those hockey sweaters, I will almost certainly not care. But I had a lot riding on that seemingly irrelevant matchup, in terms of Michigan standards. It was a matter of pride.

Pride for Michigan.

It was tough to root against North Dakota, but watching it take home a national championship would have been hard to swallow for this Great Plains transplant. Some of you might ask why I have suddenly turned on my home state, but stay with me.

The only thing that North Dakota has is hockey. Any conversation I have with compatriots back home almost always turns to hockey, and very rarely do I ever have the upperhand. The Fighting Sioux have been to two NCAA title games in my four years here, while Michigan made it as far as the Frozen Four twice, way back in my freshman and sophomore years. The Sioux are part of the all-powerful WCHA, while Michigan anchors a very weak CCHA.

A North Dakotan’s hockey is Michigander’s football, and I’ve never been very successful at turning the conversation. So I can’t help but think, would I have had a more enjoyable athletic experience in four years at North Dakota than at Michigan? Heck, the Sioux won the Division II National Championship in football in 2001 and lost to Grand Valley State in the title game in 2003. It’s no BCS, but it’s as far as they can go.

I’ve struggled with this issue continuously as athletic success seemed to continually grace my home state while, loyal to Wolverines, I seemed to encounter some form of heartbreak year after year.

Then I realized that I was crazy.

I can’t lie. Part of my college decision relied on the fact that I’d be going to a big school with big athletics, and North Dakota was never part of the equation.

Maybe Michigan hasn’t made it to the top of its hill in recent years, but at least our hill is roughly 14 times taller than North Dakota’s. In fact, I’ve lived in eastern North Dakota for 18 years, and I can tell you that there aren’t any hills to be king of.

My drum major, Matt Cavanaugh, gave a rousing speech two years ago. (That’s right, I’ve been in the Michigan Marching Band for the past four years. Deal with it.) A wise man in his own right, Cavanaugh offered the theory that Michigan fans have raised their expectations sky high in the past decade, probably in response to the amazing 1998 year when both the football and hockey teams won the national championship and the men’s basketball team won the inaugural Big Ten Tournament. But not every year is going to be 1998.

The man has got a point. Instead of sitting back and enjoying the athletic Mecca that surrounds us on this campus, too many fans carry a sense of entitlement, like Michigan owes them a national championship or two every year. While the true enthusiasm of a Michigan fan is a different subject altogether, I have to admit that I fell into that great expectations trap, at least a little bit. I mean, honestly, North Dakota versus Michigan? Was I high or something?

When the Fighting Sioux won their 2001 National Championship in football, they did it in Florence, Ala. I’m not even sure where that is. It evokes a reaction that most people give me when I tell them I am from Fargo. “Does that place even exist?”

The past two years, I’ve stood midfield at the Rose Bowl while stealth bombers flew over my head at the end of the national anthem. I realize it wasn’t a national title game, but I’ll take Pasadena, thank you very much.

I once waited outside Bill Martin’s office for an interview while he finished a phone conversation with former President Gerald Ford. Ralph Engelstad, the alum who North Dakota named its state of the art hockey arena after, is best remembered outside of the state as a Nazi sympathizer. Point Michigan.

And even after the basketball team made a less-than-stylish exit from the Big Ten Tournament in Chicago this year, I held the rest of my basketball writers hostage for an extra day to get some mileage out of a press pass and a free hotel room at the Sheraton that I will never have again. I had the opportunity to watch some Big Ten basketball, and I loved every minute of it.

There is no kind of basketball environment in North Dakota. The situation and weather is so bleak that one of the questions basketball coaches usually have to field in the recruiting process goes something like “Isn’t it cold there?” The North Central Conference just doesn’t have the same draw.

Indeed, I was crazy. No matter what my hockey-crazed fans back home tell me, I will leave this campus in a mere month with some of the richest experiences they can only dream about. And I hope you do, too. I won’t hang my head wallowing over what Michigan athletics couldn’t accomplish. I’m already warm and fuzzy enough from what they have given me.

 

Josh Holman wants to apologize to the basketball writers (his favorite) for his hostage situation in Chicago and sends a shout out to the MMB. He can be reached at holmanj@umich.edu.

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