This weekend marks another opportunity for the UMD men's hockey program to celebrate its rich history.
20 years ago, Duluth was invigorated by the Bulldogs, as veteran coach Mike Sertich and locally-raised star Derek Plante led UMD to its second -- and most recent -- MacNaughton Cup championship.
The legendary trophy awarded to the WCHA regular-season champion has been handed out annually since 1960, counting a three-year run in the early 1980s where the trophy went to the CCHA regular-season champion.
(Michigan Tech brought the Cup with it to the CCHA in 1981, as it is the trophy's trustee and has been since 1951.)
UMD has put some great teams on the ice, including a run of back-to-back Frozen Four appearances under Sertich in the 80s, and two Frozen Four trips under current coach Scott Sandelin, whose teams have posted four straight 20-win seasons.
Despite that, no UMD team has won the Cup since Plante and his crew did it 20 years ago.
"It's hard to go back and think that it's been 20 years, it's gone by so fast," Plante said this week. "The memories of that team are very vivid. We had a lot of great friendships from that team; some of my best friends were on that team."
The 1992-93 Bulldogs went 21-9-2 in WCHA play, finishing 27-11-2 overall. The team set a school record for home winning percentage, going a marvelous 17-1 at the DECC.
Plante played in 37 games as a senior, scoring 36 goals and totaling 92 points. Junior forward Chris Marinucci -- a Grand Rapids product -- had 35 goals and 77 points in 40 games.
Neither player was from Duluth, but the Twin Ports really gravitated toward the pair as they became stars at UMD.
"It was quite gratifying because it heightened the enthusiasm throughout Northern Minnesota," said Sertich, who coached at UMD from 1982-2000 and won a school-record 335 games in his career. "People identified with them and it enhanced the fan base throughout the Arrowhead region. Marty Olson, Jon Rohloff, (and) Rusty Fitzgerald were also part of that element."
Defenseman Brett Hauer contributed 10 goals and 56 points, and goalies Taras Lendzyk and Jerome Butler practically split the action (Lendzyk played in 60 more minutes over the course of the season).
Plante would end up being named the WCHA Player of the Year, Hauer the Student-Athlete of the Year, and Sertich won Coach of the Year for a fourth time.
"Derek's senior year was utterly fantastic," Sertich said. "He and Greg Johnson (North Dakota) were the two best players in the country. (Maine's Paul) Kariya won the Hobey, but I still don't believe that he was the best."
(Marinucci would win the Hobey Baker Award as a UMD senior in 1994, after a 30-goal senior season.)
One of Plante's vivid memories of that season is celebrating the league championship with thousands of fans at the DECC after UMD clinched the title. For many teams, the MacNaughton Cup is nothing more than a photo opportunity, but this UMD group accepted the trophy and then acted like it had won something, since it had.
"I think every time you achieve something, you should enjoy it," Plante said. "I think if your team is confident in itself and believe you've earned it, then why wouldn't you touch it and raise it?"
A number of players off that 1992-93 team went on to pro careers. Among them were Hauer, who played pro until the end of the 2007-2008 season, including stops in Russia and Switzerland, along with the IHL and AHL. He played 37 NHL games with the Edmonton Oilers and New York Islanders. Fitzgerald played in the IHL and UHL, along with a stint in Germany, and also played in 25 games for the Penguins between 1994 and 1995. Rohloff had a nice professional career that included 150 NHL games, all with the Bruins.
But the best pro career -- not surprisingly -- belonged to Plante. He scored 96 goals in 450 NHL games, won a Stanley Cup with the Dallas Stars, and provided one of the iconic moments in Buffalo Sabres history during a 1997 series against Ottawa. We'll let legendary Sabres VOX Rick Jeanneret take it from here:
"Derek proved to all that there was a place for the small guy," a clearly appreciative Sertich says. "His heart was a helluva lot bigger that most "big" guys, and his will and determination were unparallelled."
Some two dozen players and staff from the 1992-93 Bulldogs will be on hand for Saturday's first-intermission recognition.
The weekend series against the Badgers opens UMD's final season of WCHA membership, meaning this group has one last chance to win the coveted trophy for a third time in school history.