With three minutes left in the second period of the Frozen Four semifinal for women’s hockey between Minnesota and Wisconsin, the spelling bee begins again.
Each letter erupts from maroon-and-gold stands, and the noise vibrates through the Ridder Arena in Minneapolis, reaching the highest rows of the press box.
With each sound, Gophers fans shove their fists in the air. The choreography is impressive: hands move up and down in perfect unison, row after row. The capacity crowd forms a stadium-sized piston.
And with that final A, fans yell out their home state—“Minnesota, Minnesota!”—before lapsing into a prolonged, “Yeaaaaah Gophers!”
For someone who has never seen a game in Ridder before—indeed, for someone who has never seen a live college hockey game in Minnesota—the chant seems militaristic and unusually involved. The level of excitement is just foreign.
“These are the kind of crowds that our women that play this game deserve to play in front of,” Harvard coach Katey Stone said. “We talk about that a lot. The bigger the crowd, the better it is.”
In this Frozen Four, the traditional chant celebrates a traditional event: the Gophers scoring another goal en route to another national championship berth. Counting this year, Minnesota has made four straight NCAA title games.
The Gophers’ success fits into a larger narrative of the Midwest’s hegemony over women’s hockey. The Frozen Four has existed for women’s hockey since 2001, and in 14 years, only one team not named Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth, or Wisconsin lifted the trophy. That was Clarkson, a college from near-Canada, N.Y., that toppled the Gophers in 2014.
However, Minnesota-Wisconsin is not the only small area that holds disproportionate power in the world of women’s college hockey. If you are a world-class high school player who doesn’t want to go to college in the Midwest, then you have one alternative: move to Boston.
A quick look at the NCAA’s official RPI standings confirms this regional duality. Heading into the Frozen Four, the top five college teams were, in order: Boston College, Minnesota, Harvard, Wisconsin, and Boston University.