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VIRG FOSS: Pressure is on for Grand Forks sports teams

Pressure is the East Grand Forks Senior High boys having to beat Hermantown to win the school’s first state hockey championship.

Pressure is Travis Brewster’s UND women’s basketball team needing to win the Big Sky Conference tournament on its home court. And by doing so, becoming the first non-hockey team from UND to make it to an NCAA Division I tournament.

Pressure is needing to beat Western Michigan in the last regular-season game of the season to capture a piece of the inaugural National Collegiate Hockey Conference title and hoist the Penrose Cup.

And pressure is trying to win that last home game for the four seniors on the team to send them out in style.

Pressure is what athletes deal with on a daily basis. Whether it is keeping their position in the lineup or playing for a state title, a berth in the NCAA tournament or for the seniors in the program, pressure is ever present.

UND was sharp and dominant a week ago Friday in beating Western Michigan 2-0. But with the league title on the line and guys playing extra hard for the seniors, UND’s sharpness fell off slightly in a painful 2-1 loss the next night.

“You want to win so bad for them,” junior defenseman Nick Mattson said. “It really sucks seeing those guys with their heads down in there (locker room), knowing we didn’t get the job done for them.”

But was it extra pressure that made the difference?

Not in the eyes of Mattson. He makes a good point.

“We can deal with pressure,” Mattson said. “We play in front of 12,000 people a night and got the whole town on our backs.”

It’s part of the big draw for top players to come to UND, too. They come here to play before the largest crowds in college hockey and in a town where hockey rules.

So pressure is what you make of it.

Tyler Palmiscno’s Green Wave shrugged off pressure of the state title game and trailing by a goal after one period to blow away Hermantown with a tremendous performance.

Brewster’s basketball team has the pressure of being the No. 1 seed in the tournament and playing at home with a bid to the NCAA tournament dangling out there as the grand prize.

Athletes put pressure on themselves, of course. Most thrive under pressure, even relish it, challenged to perform at their best on the big stage.

Brewster’s team, of course, has to win the tournament this weekend to get to the NCAA tournament.

Dave Hakstol’s hockey team may need to beat Colorado College this weekend in the NCHC first round of playoffs to ensure itself of a berth in the NCAA tournament in a couple of weeks.

But UND does not need to win the conference post-season tournament to earn a bid to the nationals. The pressure is different for the hockey team than it is in UND basketball (men and women) this week.

As the stakes rise, how the athletes and teams perform under pressure, whether external or internal, will be closely watched by us fans.

Get out and support your team. Be their biggest fan, not their biggest critic. 

Virg Foss reported on sports for the Grand Forks Herald for 36 years until his retirement. He writes a column exclusively for the Herald from October through April. Contact him at or (701) 772-9272.