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Saturday won't be the first time UND plays hockey in the desert

Cary Eades and his teammates got dressed in a water park in December 1978.

Then, they walked through the wave park, across the street, entered Oceanside Ice Arena, put on their skates and played a regular-season game against Northern Arizona University.

The ceiling was so low that the players felt they could almost touch it if they raised their sticks and jumped.

They scored 10 goals that night and beat the Lumberjacks.

That was the first time the UND men's hockey team played a game in the desert.

UND will return to the desert this week to play the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game against the University of Minnesota in Las Vegas. It's a marquee game that is attracting fans from all over the country.

But it's not the first time the Fighting Hawks have played in the desert or a southern location—and those who did it in 1978 can't forget their experience.

Friday night's game was in Phoenix at the arena that now serves as home to Arizona State. Saturday's game was held in Flagstaff, Ariz., which is where NAU is located. Eades was a freshman that year.

As a senior, Eades played a two-game series in San Diego against U.S. International.

"Those kind of trips are great for bonding," said Eades, now the coach and general manager of the Fargo Force in the United States Hockey League. "It's out of your routine. Everything is new. If you go to a place like Denver, everyone knows where to go and what you're doing. Everyone is so excited to go somewhere new.

"The Arizona one was especially neat, just with the weather and palm trees. A lot of guys hadn't had that experience before."

It wasn't exactly hot in Arizona, though.

It snowed in Phoenix the day before the team arrived. By the time they landed, it had all melted, but it wasn't as tropical as they had hoped.

Even so, they still got into their swim trunks and sat by the pool together in Phoenix.

"It wasn't particularly warm, but we had to act like it was," former UND defenseman Travis Dunn said. "We sat around by the pool. I have some pictures of guys by palm trees. I remember buying an Arizona State golf shirt."

UND won the series opener 10-2 in Phoenix.

"There were like 20 people there," radio play-by-play announcer Tim Hennessy said. "I had to muffle my voice a little bit, because everybody could hear me in there."

Game 2 was played two-and-a-half hours north in the Skydome—the same venue where UND will play NAU in football next month.

The hockey rink was put on one side of the dome.

"It was a multi-use facility," Eades said. "There were people playing tennis and volleyball down the way. It was a little bizarre."

UND routed the Lumberjacks 12-2 in the series finale.

"I played on the power play that weekend," Dunn said, laughing. "It was probably the only time in my career that I played on the power play."

Hennessy had to call the game from the football press box, which was located at center field—quite a bit away from the hockey rink.

"Trying to see the rink wasn't easy," Hennessy said.

Eades also was able to go on the trip to San Diego as a senior.

UND split with U.S. International, now a defunct program, in a December series.

"We had some alumni functions," Eades said. "We met a lot of UND grads that had left UND and were working out there. We had nice weather. I think there was a pool party at the end of that excursion as well."

Hennessy remembers the location of the arena—the Mira Mesa House of Ice.

"It was kind of up on a bluff if I remember right," he said. "You could go outside the rink, walk a little way to this hill overlooking the ocean. I really remember that vividly because the fleet was going out from San Diego. That was really impressive to see all these ships and destroyers."

That was the last time that UND played in a tropical destination until the 2016 NCAA Frozen Four, when the Fighting Hawks earned the program's eighth national championship in Tampa, Fla.

But there have been other highlight destination games in recent years: Winnipeg's Bell MTS Place, T.D. Ameritrade Park in Omaha (home of the College World Series), New York City's Madison Square Garden and now Las Vegas.

"Guys today are so fortunate to be able to do that," Dunn said. "It's such a dramatic change. The exotic places we got to play (other than Arizona) were Houghton, Mich., and Marquette, Mich. We didn't have the opportunity to do these things that these guys get to do today. I'm envious but I'm also very proud of what college hockey has turned into.

"We all owe so much of it to people like Reggie Morelli, who set the foundation."

U.S. Hall of Fame Game

When: 9:07 p.m. Central on Saturday.

Where: Orleans Arena, Las Vegas.

TV: Midco Sports Network,

Radio: The Fox (96.1 FM)

Records: UND 1-2-1, Minnesota 1-0-1.

Of note: Nevada is the 26th state where UND has played a game.

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 14th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016 and 2018, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He also was the NCHC's inaugural Media Excellence Award winner in 2018. Schlossman 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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