Winter storm forces Omaha to spend night in The Ralph
Omaha began calling Grand Forks hotels Saturday afternoon, looking for a place to stay.
Interstate 29 was closing due to a blizzard and the Mavericks, who had planned on heading home after the game, knew they were going to have to spend an extra night in town.
But because of a Dierks Bentley concert at the Alerus Center and the UND hockey game, hotels were almost fully booked.
So, some Omaha players and staff members were forced to spend Saturday night in the basement of Ralph Engelstad Arena after their two-game series against UND.
Players who had family members at the game were able to go to their hotels and spend the night there. A couple of coaching staff members, including head coach Mike Gabinet, found rooms in a two-star hotel in town. But the rest of the team slept inside The Ralph.
They had a couple of different options for sleeping in the building. Their team bus was a sleeper bus with some flat beds, and they had the option to sleep there. The bus was parked inside The Ralph near the Zamboni corridor, where opponent buses sit during every game. Arena workers turned off the lights around the bus to make it a better sleeping environment.
Ralph Engelstad Arena officials also opened up the Green Room downstairs -- normally used for catering -- as an option. Equipment manager Jason Smits decided to sleep inside the visiting locker room.
Once Ralph Engelstad Arena general manager Jody Hodgson found out about Omaha’s predicament and plan to spend the night in The Ralph, he made several arrangements to try to help out the Mavericks.
He contacted Jen Berger, the director of emergency management for UND, and Berger hauled over several bags full of pillows, sheets and blankets. They were sitting outside of Omaha’s locker room by the end of the game.
Ralph Engelstad Arena catered a postgame meal for Omaha’s players, and Ralph Engelstad Arena cook Rob Peterson made plans to come to the arena early Sunday morning to cook the Mavericks french toast, eggs and bacon for breakfast.
“He’s cooking what we’ve got on hand,” Hodgson said.
The Ralph left extra waters and sports drinks for the Mavericks outside of their bus, too.
There was a bit of irony to the travel issues.
This is the first year that the National Collegiate Hockey Conference set up series to end the regular season against geographical rivals to ease travel before the playoffs.
The Colorado schools -- Colorado College and Denver -- will play to end every season. The Eastern schools -- Miami and Western Michigan -- will play to end every season. The same goes for Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State, as well as UND and Omaha.
But in Year 1, Omaha had travel issues.
Omaha will have to get back on the road in a few days and travel to Duluth for its first-round NCHC playoff series. UND will be at Denver.
The Fighting Hawks swept the Mavericks in a two-game series over the weekend, winning Saturday night’s game 5-4 in overtime on a Jordan Kawaguchi goal.
WILD YEAR FOR NCHC TRAVEL
This year has provided more travel headaches than any previous one in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.
There have been several travel problems in addition to Omaha's travel problems Saturday.
Two weeks ago, St. Cloud State got stuck coming home from Omaha and needed help from local law enforcement to get free. The Huskies ended up eating a team meal at the local jail with the Penrose Cup in tow.
Denver had to postpone a game at Colorado College after getting stuck in traffic for five hours during a winter storm. That game was made up a week and a half ago.
Western Michigan had a flight to Omaha canceled and the Broncos were forced to bus.