Hanging 8 to roaring applause

The entire men’s hockey team was on hand to celebrate winning the program’s eight national title. Photo by Nick Nelson/The Dakota Student. 

The UND men’s hockey team returned to the Ralph Engelstad Arena to celebrate its national championship victory with their fans on Monday.

About 6,000 boisterous fans made one last trip to Ralph Engelstad Arena for the 2015-16 season to watch the national championship celebration.

Alumni and students arrived at the arena to see the team, the new trophy and hear from the players and coaches. It was a special event not only for them, but the fans as well.

“Us bringing back the championship back here is truly amazing,” UND alumnus Bryce Johnson said. “Everyone is so happy, it’s great to see. Every student and alumni will remember this day for the rest of their life.”

One by one, the players were introduced by announcer Darrin Looker as they came out of the tunnel. They were met by loud cheers from the fans in the stands.

The players were very appreciative of the support that the fans gave them no matter where and when they are playing.

“I got off the plane and hoisted the trophy to all the fans who were at the airport,” Forward Drake Caggiula said. “It was a special feeling to get off that plane and see all the people who have been supporting us all season long. I held that trophy high because it’s not just for us, it’s for all the people who helped build this program and our fans are a huge part of this.”

Once everyone had taken their spots on the ice, speeches were made by coaches, administrators, players and the university president.

Albeit simple, Interim President Ed Schafer may have said it best.

“I have to tell you, my recent phrase is: The University of North Dakota plays hockey,” he said.

Early in the season, it became apparent to both players and coaches that they had something special in the team this year. Many great players and teams have come through the university, but there was something different about this squad.

“Throughout the year, you could feel this group was special,” UND coach Brad Berry said. “We openly discussed it throughout the season.”

Along with the fans, the team reflected on its victory and also the season they had. For many, it was still almost surreal.

After the final horn had sounded, there were a range of emotions coming from                                         the Fighting Hawk players.

“Is this a dream, or is this real,” Cagguila said. “To win a national championship is a special time, and I couldn’t believe it actually happened. I had waited four years for it, and to get it in my last collegiate game is a special thing.”

The praise for UND hockey did not end at the players. Berry made sure to thank everyone that is involved in the program such as the trainers, assistant coaches and employees of Ralph Englestad Arena.

“We have the best staff in college hockey,” Berry said

Whether you were at your house, in downtown Grand Forks or actually in Tampa Bay for the championship, it is something no fan will forget.

For fans who attended the games in Tampa, they have said it is a once in a lifetime experience.

“Immediately after the game, I stood there for a long time,” UND student Ana Villanueva said. “I just watched the seats and ice empty and was among the last to leave. It was just such a surreal feeling that I wanted to let sink in.”

For fans in Grand Forks who flooded the streets after the victory, it was just as sweet as being there in person.

“I was at Joe Black’s Bar and Grill for the game,” Johnson said. “It was the best experience I’ve ever had watching a sporting event. After we won, I think I hugged at least thirty of my friends and joined in singing ‘We Are the Champions’ with the 400 or so people at the bar.”

The dedication of the UND fans is unmatched in college hockey. Fans pour their hearts and souls into the team every season. They continually are at the top of the country for attendance every season.

“Personally, throughout the season I spend my few spare dollars to go to every hockey game and function I possibly can, including traveling to Tampa,” Villanueva said. “Hours are spent waiting in line. All of this for a team that gives me something to believe in when much of my time is spent working or stressing about school.”

The ceremony was very memorable for all UND fans, young and old. At the end of Berry’s speech, he had a message for the UND faithful.

“We’re here to hang nine next year,” he said.

Adam Gunderman is a sports writer for The Dakota Student. He can be reached at [email protected]