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A look back at UND's last Thanksgiving Day hockey game

The old Ralph Engelstad Arena.jpg
UND's last Thanksgiving Day hockey game was played in the old Ralph Engelstad Arena.

UND and Minnesota will play a Thanksgiving Day game this week. UND last played a college hockey game on Thanksgiving on Nov. 24, 1988. Here's the game story by longtime Grand Forks Herald beat writer Virg Foss from that night.

Matt Morelli scores goals about as often as ex-UND defenseman Travis Dunn did in his college career.

Dunn, the color commentator on WDAZ-TV's television coverage of Fighting Sioux hockey, never did score a goal.

And until Thanksgiving Day, Morelli from Minot never had one in college either.

But now they're calling him "Matt the Hat" after his first college hat trick -- and only the second of his career -- propelled the Sioux to an 8-1 nonconference rout of outmanned Air Force Academy.

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"He keeps that up and he'll make the fans forget all about his old man," UND coach Gino Gasparini said.

Matt's old man is Reggie Morelli, a Sioux All America center in 1960, who scored 60 goals in his UND career.

Son Matt is now only 57 behind Reggie, but charging hard.

It's been so long since Matt Morelli scored a hat trick that he had a little trouble remembering the last one.

“I didn't have any in the two years I played juniors with Waterloo (Iowa of the United States Hockey League)," he said. "I'm sure the only one I ever had in high school was my senior year when I had one against West Fargo."

West Fargo is to North Dakota high school hockey what Air Force is to Division-I hockey, a level below the best.

That matters little to Morelli, a fourth-line wing who has played in just three Sioux games this year and had only one assist in the 22 games last year.

"I don't do anything fancy, most of my goals coming on tip-ins or rebounds in high school," he said. "I'm no big goal-scorer."

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Morelli is, in hockey terminology, a "mucker, plugger, digger" -- terms used for hard-working players who lack the skills of the big scores but get the job done nonetheless.

“He's stepped forward the last few games," Gasparini said. "He gives it all he's got and that's all you can ask."

It's advice his father has been feeding him all his life.

"He always told me to just go out and work hard and do the best you can." Matt said. "He's my biggest fan."

Morelli scored one of UND's six goals in a big first period explosion against Air Force sophomore goalie Mike Blank, a former Grand Forks Red River star.

Neil Eisenhut scored UND's first shorthanded goal of the year at 2:44, then Dane Jackson scored at 6:15 and John Halison at 7:44. Morelli knocked in a rebound at 11:05. David Marvin scored on a floater from the blue line at 12:08 and Scott Koberinski ended the outburst with another rebound goal at 19:57 of the first period.

UND so outclassed the Air Force in the first period that 17 minutes into the period, the Falcons had as many penalties (three) as shots on goal.

John Anzlec scored for the Air Force at 11:24 of the second period much to the delight of a large turnout of Falcon backers from Grand Forks Air Force Base.

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But Morelli scored off a faceoff at 13:00 then completed his hat trick on a breakaway at 15:40 of the third period when Marvin sent him in alone with a long lead pass.

For Blank the evening was far from what happened the last time he played at UND. Two years ago, he nursed a shutout into the final seconds before giving up a goal as Red River beat Grand Forks Central 3-1 for the North Dakota State High School championship.

The competition was far different for Blank and the Falcons on Thursday.

"We played like St. Olaf did last weekend," said Blank in reference to the 7-11 and 11-1 victories the Air Force posted over the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) Division-II school.

Going from that to facing the Sioux was a major step, Blanks admits.

"It takes a period for us to change to that higher level because we're just not used to that kind of competition," he said. "It took me time to adjust. I obviously didn't have a good first period, but I settled down in the second and did the things that stop the puck for me."

Blank gave way in the third period to freshman Mark Liebich, who made 14 saves.

Blank said he was up tight in the first period, in part because of playing before the hometown fans.

“That, and I was thinking I had to do more than usual because we wouldn't play with them,” he said. "It was a mistake for me to think that."

The game marked the debut of sophomore Tony Courture a transfer from U.S. International in goal for the Sioux. Courture, from International Falls Minn., made 18 saves. He played well, Gasparini said.

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