The UND hockey team gathered at Memorial Stadium at 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning this fall.
They were there for the last event of the Iron Man competition -- the mile run.
Every player on the roster is required to run the mile in less than six minutes. If they do not, they have to keep running it until they do. It’s a test that goes all the way back to Gino Gasparini’s days as head coach.
Some players are naturals and finish it easily. Others are not and it’s more of a challenge.
On this year’s team, 25 of the 26 players finished the mile in less than six minutes on their first try. The lone player who did not, finished it in 6:04.
Close enough, right?
Not for UND coach Brad Berry and the staff. Rules are rules. There’s no bending them.
“That’s not what we do here,” Berry said.
So, the following Saturday, that lone player had to come back to Memorial Stadium bright and early at 8 a.m. for another round by himself. The rest of the team got to sleep in.
That one player, whose name Berry didn’t reveal, arrived by 7:45 a.m. for his second test. Athletic trainer Mark Poolman and the coaching staff joined him. The player stretched and got ready to try again.
Just before 8 a.m., the team’s captains walked into Memorial Stadium.
Soon, the rest of the team arrived, too. They all pulled up seats in the front couple rows of the stadium, near the 50-yard line. They all could have slept in on a Saturday, but they woke up early to support their teammate.
The lone player started the mile -- four laps around the track -- once again.
He ran the first lap at a pretty good pace, but started slowing down on his second lap.
At that point, a couple of teammates decided that cheering from the stands wasn’t enough. They jumped out of their seats at Memorial Stadium and started running with him.
During his third lap, he was dragging quite a bit.
“It didn’t look good, you know?” Berry said.
All of the sudden, the entire team climbed out of the bleachers, got on the track and started running with him. Some ran quietly, others were screaming and yelling to motivate him.
The player’s pace picked up.
He zipped around the track in his final lap, with his encouraging teammates in tow, and crossed the finish line in 5:56. He completed the six-minute mile.
“I think that was a big deal for our team, picking up a teammate,” Berry said. “They didn’t have to be there on a Saturday. And No. 2, you’re not just watching them, you’re helping them out. That’s what you do.
“When you go through great times, it’s easy going and maybe you don’t need those teammates. But when you’re going through adversity, that’s when you really need somebody. It was a great moment for our group.”
At that point, Berry and the coaching staff knew they had a tight-knit team that would stick together through ups and downs. He was reminded of that after UND lost a pair of games to Canisius College in Buffalo, N.Y., earlier this month.
UND arrived back from Buffalo at about 3 a.m. Sunday. The team had that Sunday off -- a mandated day off per NCAA rules.
The coaching staff showed up at Ralph Engelstad Arena to begin their pre-scout for the next opponent, Colorado College. As they worked in their offices, suddenly, the whole team showed up to skate on their own.
Although they weren’t scheduled to practice, the captains called one anyway.
“They had their own deal,” Berry said. “That was them. We can’t have an organized day with them. They had their own deal going. After that weekend, we were disappointed as coaches, they were disappointed as players. We all felt that. They took it into their own hands.”
That’s why Berry was not surprised to see his team’s response Saturday night in Ralph Engelstad Arena.
After losing a close game late Friday -- and losing one of the team’s best players, Grant Mismash, to a possible season-ending knee injury -- UND came back Saturday night and knocked off the No. 1 team in the country, St. Cloud State, 5-1.
Once again, they picked up a teammate the right way.
“Saturday morning, we got to the rink and were talking that the No. 1 thing we have to do is win the game,” Berry said. “We can go crazy and be undisciplined and do whatever, but that’s not going to do us any good. We needed to win the game. We did that. At the end of the game, I think you saw some emotions come out, and I think that was the guys’ way of standing up for Grant.”
NORTH DAKOTA AT NO. 7 DENVER
When: 8:07 p.m. Friday, 8:07 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Magness Arena, Denver.
TV: Altitude 2 on Friday only (DirecTV 682-1).
Radio: The Fox (96.1 FM).