Memorable journey awaits hockey team

UND men’s hockey team travels to face Mavericks, looks to claim top spot in NCHC conference


UND senior forward Brendan O’Donnell battles a Colorado College skater last weekend at Ralph Engelstad Arena, when UND swept the Tigers. Photo by Nicholas Nelson/The Dakota Student.

Two years ago, the UND men’s hockey team hopped on the bus in Omaha, Neb. to head back to Grand Forks after a series. The memorable journey included a pit stop in Sisseton, S.D., thanks to a blizzard that delayed the team’s return.

Last season, an unforgettable bus ride on the same path carried an illness-stricken team on a nearly 500-mile trek filled with not-so-well hockey players.

This weekend?

“We’re going to try a different mode of transportation,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said with a laugh.

No buses. No long hours riding down the highway.

After a month-long homestand, North Dakota instead will board a plane bound for Omaha to take on the Mavericks with hopes of etching a year without mishaps into its record.

The National Collegiate Hockey Conference rivals last met in Grand Forks in late November, Omaha clinching the extra point in a shootout victory on Friday and North Dakota notching a Saturday win.

With nearly identical records, a single point is the only separation from UND taking over the No. 1 spot in the conference, thanks to a productive month at Ralph Engelstad Arena that saw North Dakota only lose once in six games.

Though it will be farther from its loyal fan base and have to live without its almost-routine stick salute on Saturday evenings, the team is looking forward to getting out of town for the first time since mid-December.

“It’s always challenging going on the road,” Hakstol said. “We’ve been at home for a long time, and it’s been a great stretch to be at home, but I think this group is excited to be on the road.”

Last weekend, UND finished up its play at home with points from 12 skaters in its lineup when it faced Colorado College — showcasing the depth of this team.

There might not be a single standout skater or a player who scores multiple goals on a consistent basis. But there are four lines and capable defensive units that know their expectations. The reason for such a large array of names on the scoresheet is simple.

“Guys expecting to chip in,” Hakstol said. “I think that’s the bottom line. We’ve talked about our mentality. I think right from day one, we’ve talked about having everybody in our lineup chipping in and I think that’s what our team is. I know everybody has a mentality every night that they’re going to go out and do their part. And if that means scoring a goal or chipping in on the offensive side that night, that’s what they’re going to do.”

Omaha also is enjoying a favorable 4-2 record since the break thanks to a productive offense that ranks No. 2 in the NCHC and holds the top-ranked goaltender in the league in save percentage (.936) with Ryan Massa.

Faceoff against the Mavericks is set for 7:37 p.m. Friday evening and 7:07 p.m. Saturday in a race for the top spot in the conference.

North Dakota knows what it’s up against.

“They’re a great team,” UND senior Andrew Panzerella said. “We know they’re going to play hard. Just looking at the standings, you can tell how good of a team they are. This weekend’s going to be a battle. They’re a huge rivalry now.”

Elizabeth Erickson is the sports editor of The Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected].