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TOM MILLER: UND fans bring Final Five feel to Omaha

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Omaha NEB University of Nebraska at Omaha fan Michael Messerly bought his tickets the day of the game and ended up in a section full of University of North Dakota fans at the CenturyLink Center Omaha on Friday February 08, 2013. UND brought a large contingent of fans. CHRIS MACHIAN/THE WORLD-HERALD2 / 2

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

Dakota."

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

of."

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.

Tom Miller
Miller has been with the Grand Forks Herald sports department for the past 10 years. He's also a Grand Forks native and UND graduate. 
(701) 780-1121
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