If the Final Four is the Big Dance, last week's NCAA Division men's hockey championship, held at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, was the Little Polka-fest. Contributing to this ambience was the North Dakota pep band, whose hops-heavy repertoire included Beer Barrel Polka, The Beer Song (In Heaven There Is No Beer) and the Budweiser theme song.
Countering with its own rendition of the Bud song was the pep band from Boston University (enrollment 15,568), whose team met the Fighting Sioux in Saturday's final. In the same way politicians angle for the votes of soccer moms, these bands battled for the allegiance of local puckheads.
The battle was won by smaller and less-talented North Dakota (enrollment 9,490), which, with the crowd of 17,537 behind it, clawed back from a 2-0 deficit to defeat the Terriers 6-4. The title was the Fighting Sioux's first in 10 years, and among the celebrants was university president Kendall Baker, who on Friday had spent more than a few minutes expounding on the academic sophistication of his institution. Baker's message was undercut, somewhat, by a young man in a UND LAW SCHOOL sweatshirt who amid the postgame euphoria held up a sign that announced I JUST WET MY PANTS.
Outside the arena, the proceedings caused less of a splash. In this state the biggest sports story—check that, the biggest story—of the week was the unveiling of the Green Bay Packers' 1997 schedule. The front page of last Saturday's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel had not a word on the hockey final, although its lead story was sports-related. The headline: WE'RE NO. 2: PACKERS' MERCHANDISE SALES TRAIL ONLY DALLAS.
There was no question who was No. 1 at Milwaukee's downtown Holiday Inn. Kelly green and white—North Dakota's colors—reigned supreme, and the hotel lobby served as the staging area for all activities of the Fighting Sioux and their fans. Last Friday one group of North Dakota boosters boarded a bus for a tour of the Miller brewery, while another covered for them by attending Good Friday services at a nearby church. Eschewing both tours was coach Dean Blais, who leaned against the hotel's front desk and explained the climatic differences between Grand Forks. N.Dak.. and his native International Falls, Minn. "In International Falls you get the cold," said Blais, who has worked wonders since inheriting a losing team three years ago. "In Grand Forks, you get wind and blizzards."
You don't have to warn Marina and Robert Hoogsteen, parents of North Dakota stars David and Kevin, about bad weather, living as they do in Thunder Bay. Ont. The Hoogsteens were somewhere outside Madison, Wis., 10 hours into the 11�-hour drive to Milwaukee, when they noticed a red warning light on the dashboard. The alternator belt in their '91 Topaz had snapped, but, determined to make it to Milwaukee, they pressed on and arrived at the Holiday Inn just before the car conked out.
Fortunately for the Fighting Sioux, the Hoogsteen sibs can turn on red lights, too. Both David, a sophomore forward, and Kevin, a senior forward, scored in North Dakota's 6-2 semifinal romp over Colorado College on Thursday. (BU upset defending champ Michigan 3-2 in the other semi.) David, the smaller of the brothers, is 5'7" and 138 pounds—compared with 5'10" and 170 for Kevin—and is in the habit of rounding the latter figure up to 140. The Fighting Sioux were the only team to offer him a scholarship, a gamble that paid off on Saturday when he scored a pair of second-period goals, the second just five seconds before intermission. That morale-crusher stood up as the game-winner.
Afterward David stood on the ice in a daze. "This hasn't sunk in yet." he said. "It's like a dream." When it comes to hockey players, hockey schools and postseason dances, obviously, size is overrated.