TOM MILLER: UND fans bring Final Five feel to Omaha
OMAHA, Neb. -- At the WCHA Final Five in St. Paul each season, UND
hockey fans have made a tradition of turning the Xcel Energy Center
from a neutral site to a home atmosphere. The city becomes plastered
in Kelly Green -- and not because the tournament usually lands on St.
Patrick's Day weekend.
In UND's 2-1 win over Nebraska Omaha on Friday at CenturyLink Center,
North Dakota fans gave a regular-season matchup seven hours from home
a Final Five feel.
In what felt bizarre at times, UND's rabid following flipped a road
game into a home game as nearly half of the 9,487 in attendance
arrived to support the Green and White.
UND freshman forward Rocco Grimaldi, who scored the team's first goal,
will vouch the 50-50 support estimation.
"Not many times will you ever see a road team have as many fans as the
home team," Grimaldi said. "We've got something special at North
UND's extensive fan base has been documented in the past, travelling
well to series such as Colorado College, Denver and Minneapolis (all
areas with strong alumni bases).
But there was something incredibly unique about the support Friday.
UND coach Dave Hakstol agrees, and he's been a part of the program as
a player, assistant coach and head coach dating back decades.
"Of all of the fan support situations that I've seen, this one is
special," Hakstol said. "You got a feeling right away this afternoon
walking around the hotel and the area around the rink ....
"Phenomenal, that's my thought."
Today's outdoor game at Ameritrade Park was the main draw for UND fans
making the trek -- the unique opportunity to see tradition-rich UND
play in the elements for the first time ever. Heck, it was enough to
draw a bus-full of fans from Hazen, N.D.
But for the fans who made the pilgrimage for the outdoor game, they
also made their presence felt in the series opener indoors.
Throughout the game, chants of "Let's go Sioux" rocked the arena.
"It was unbelievable," said UND senior forward Danny Kristo, who
scored the game winner. "It's safe to say there were more Sioux fans
here tonight. It felt like a home game. It was humbling to be a part
Kristo said the additional support might have worked in two
directions: Motivational for UND and demoralizing for Omaha.
"It pumps the bench up a little bit," Kristo said. "It's got to be a
little rattling for Omaha when the whole place is chanting "Let's go
Sioux" in their own building."
UND freshman goalie Zane Gothberg grew up in Thief River Falls, so he
shouldn't easily be surprised by the UND following. But even a player
with local roots had to be taken aback by the atmosphere.
"It was weird to have that many fans here," Gothberg said.