LAS VEGAS -- Rhett Gardner saw the odds at the Orleans Casino sportsbook.
He knew UND was a big underdog in its U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game against rival Minnesota.
“We were joking that hopefully Grand Forks will be a rich town after the weekend,” Gardner said. “And I think they might be.”
UND delivered yet another signature win at another destination game -- arguably the biggest to date -- by knocking off rival Minnesota 3-1 in front of 7,412 exuberant fans in Orleans Arena.
East Grand Forks product Colton Poolman scored the game-tying goal late in the second period and the game-winner midway through the third.
Joel Janatuinen iced the game with an empty-netter in the final minute, sending the UND bench into a wild celebration that matched what was happening in the stands behind them.
“It was crazy,” Gardner said. “I’ve been to a Frozen Four, played in a ton of games at The Ralph and the Fargo regional -- that was the craziest atmosphere I’ve ever been a part of. It was incredible. I’m so glad we got a win to reward all the people that came down here and wore green all week.”
UND fans came to Vegas from at least 44 different states, five Canadian provinces and four countries.
When they arrived, they saw odds at Orleans Casino’s sportsbook of +250 for UND. That means if UND wins the bet, it pays out 2.5 times the wager.
Because gambling action was so heavy on UND, the line shifted all the way to -110 by the time the puck dropped.
“Our fans knew a little better than Vegas,” Janatuinen said.
UND has a pattern of winning these destination games.
In 2012, it beat Clarkson 3-1 in a game at Winnipeg’s Bell MTS Place.
In 2013, it easily handled Omaha 5-2 in an outdoor game at T.D. Ameritrade Park, home of the College World Series.
In 2016, UND beat longtime nemesis Boston College 4-3 in New York City’s Madison Square Garden.
And on Saturday night, UND rallied to beat the Gophers in front of a crowd that included more than 100 former players including the 1968 national runner-up team, the family of Ralph Engelstad and those fans who were lucky enough to get tickets in the short few seconds before it sold out.
“You walk over and see that tailgate party and hundreds and hundreds of people in there. . . we walked right by it today on the way to the rink,” UND coach Brad Berry said. “Our guys didn't want to let them down. They felt like there was a big obligation, and I think that’s a reason we do well in these types of games."
In addition to seeing the tailgate, Gardner said the players heard about former UND star T.J. Oshie and a group of seven other former players buying hundreds of beers for fans attending the event.
“We walked to the game, so we walked by the tailgate and saw a bit of it,” Gardner said. “Even when we were leaving pregame meal today, people were lining up. We saw what (T.J.) Oshie and all those guys did. It just shows what kind of tradition we have here and what culture we have.”
UND earned the win by smothering a Gopher offense that had scored seven goals in each of their last three times out -- once against defending NCAA champion Minnesota Duluth, once in an exhibition against the U.S. Under-18 Team and once in an exhibition game against Trinity Western.
Minnesota managed just one goal -- and it came on a five-on-three power play that lasted a full two minutes.
Outside of that, the Gophers couldn’t sustain any attack. And when they did get chances, rookie goalie Adam Scheel was outstanding (20 saves).
“I think we just outskated them and we were really, really physical from the get-go,” Janatuinen said. “I don’t really think they wanted to play today.”
UND (2-2-1) fell behind early in the second period after Grant Mismash was called for a checking-from-behind major. At the same time, the Fighting Hawks were also whistled for too many on ice.
The Gophers (1-1-1) capitalized after just 22 seconds, when Brent Gates Jr., buried a rebound of a Sampo Ranta shot.
But UND killed off the remaining 4:38 of the major penalty, then turned the game on a dime.
The Fighting Hawks outshot the Gophers 15-5 in the second period and 8-1 through the first 16 minutes of the third as they grabbed the lead.
“Our forwards might have had their best track of the year,” Poolman said. “They came back so hard and they allowed our ‘D’ to kind of step up. We broke out of the zone pretty easily. We spent little amount of time there.”
In addition to shutting down the Gophers’ top players, Poolman scored UND’s two big goals.
On the first one, he hammered a pass from Ludvig Hoff through a Cole Smith screen and past Gopher goalie Mat Robson (30 saves).
At 10:14 of the second, he took a cross-ice drop pass from Jordan Kawaguchi, faked a shot to get a Gopher defender to drop, then rifled a shot into the top corner of the net.
“That was crazy,” Poolman said. “I’ll remember that noise forever. That was really loud. That came close to what The Ralph sounds like. They made it such a cool experience and I’m so happy we all came down here and played the way we did, because that’s how we’re going to remember it.”