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What's it like to officiate UND-Minnesota games?

Ref #3 talking with Cam Johnson. Jesse Trelstad/ Grand Forks Herald2nd period

Derek Shepherd was in his mid-20s the first time he was assigned to referee a North Dakota-Minnesota game.

He had an idea of what he was getting into.

Shepherd grew up in the Twin Cities and had previously worked the series as a linesman.

But even so, he had to be properly introduced in his first rivalry game as a referee at Mariucci Arena.

Before the era of video replay, Shepherd waved off a North Dakota goal for a high stick on that night. A young UND coach Dean Blais stepped onto the ice and to scream at Shepherd.

Stunned to see a coach on the ice, Shepherd skated over to talk to Blais.

"When you saw the silver tooth, you knew you were in trouble," Shepherd said. "And I saw the silver tooth that night."

Blais told Shepherd: "You better be right or I'm going to kill you."

During a stoppage in play, Shepherd skated to the penalty box to ask if he got the call right. They said he did.

"Oh, thank God," he told them.

Shepherd got that call right, but the point was hammered home.

When you officiate the North Dakota-Minnesota series, it's inevitably going to be an adventure.

It is your job to tame the adrenaline-filled circus it often becomes. It is your job to make spur-of-the-moment calls that are going to be heavily scrutinized and criticized by coaches, fans and media.

"It's always a very difficult situation for referees, because you have incredibly passionate fans on the Minnesota side and incredibly passionate fans on the North Dakota side," said Don Adam, who will be in Grand Forks on Friday as the National Collegiate Hockey Conference's director of officiating. "With the intensity of the coaches and staffs on both sides, the intensity of the players, it basically becomes very difficult, because you're going to be in a lot of no-win situations no matter what you do. Everything you do is going to be heavily scrutinized by somebody."

Nobody has officiated more North Dakota-Minnesota games in the past two decades than Shepherd, Adam, Mike Schmitt and Marco Hunt. All are now retired from calling college hockey—and they all have their own views on what it's like to be at the center of the rivalry series.

For Shepherd, who called 16 of the past 26 UND-Minnesota games, nothing was better. He enjoyed the extra-curriculars, the after-the-whistle fracas and the drama that went along with it.

"I loved it," Shepherd said. "There's pressure, but I thought it was one of the easier games to call because you didn't have to make anything up. All you had to do is decide when you were going to call it. There's always something in that series."

Hunt, his partner, did not.

Shepherd recalled the game where Matt Frattin charged Minnesota defenseman Kevin Wehrs in Ralph Engelstad Arena and was called for a five-minute major in the second period.

During the end of the second intermission, Hunt was sitting next to a water fountain near the tunnel to the ice.

"He was in hell," Shepherd said, laughing. "He absolutely hated it. He despised it. He hated everything about it, and he especially hated that I loved it."

Shepherd called the series 14 years in a row, including the dramatic Blake Wheeler goal in the 2007 Western Collegiate Hockey Association Final Five and UND's wild six-goal rally at the 2012 Final Five.

Schmitt, now an NCHC supervisor of officials, called the first game at Ralph Engelstad Arena with an all-North Dakota crew.

"When you do as many games as I did, you're trying to get up for every game," Schmitt said, "but when you got assigned North Dakota-Minnesota, you had those butterflies in your stomach. I don't care how many times you did it. It was a different feeling, man. You didn't know what the heck was going to happen.

"They were awesome to do. You were always hoping to get that game on your schedule. And when you did, you really looked forward to it."

Schmitt recalled the time a fan threw a Vodka bottle on the ice, shattering into pieces after UND had rallied from down three goals to tie it. They had to scrape the ice with the Zamboni to clean it up. By the time they finished, UND had lost its momentum and ended up losing the game.

Adam recalled once being hit by a beer during warmups and being flipped off by former UND coach Dave Hakstol.

All of the officials said there was not much of an attempt to quell the heated-nature of the rivalry before the games.

"You can't give them a 30-second spiel and expect that to change their behavior or intensity or change their passion," Adam said. "You just know all of those things are going to be involved in the series. I'd just kind of show up and whatever happened, happened. You do your best to react to it."

Shepherd now laughs at that first North Dakota-Minnesota experience and getting the wrath of Blais, because "one thing I always loved about Dean was that he was always fair. If Dean really yelled at you, you probably did something wrong."

This weekend, the NCHC will throw two officials—yet to be disclosed—into the fire in The Ralph.

"I'd love to explain to them what they're in for," Shepherd said. "But I don't know what they're in for."

Minnesota at UND

• When: Friday, 7:37 p.m., Saturday, 7:07 p.m..

• Where: Ralph Engelstad Arena.

• TV/Radio: MidcoSN, The Fox (96.1 FM).

• Records: Minnesota 2-2-0, UND 3-0-1

• Of note: This will be Minnesota's first visit to The Ralph since January of 2012.

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 13th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He has voted in the national college hockey poll since 2007 and has served as a member of the Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier Award committees.

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