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After stops in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Raton and Colorado Springs, UND arrives in Denver

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Twenty-four hours earlier, Mark Poolman never could have imagined the scene that played out Thursday.

But there he stood against the glass at Cadet Ice Arena on the base of the United States Air Force Academy, watching UND practice, wearing a t-shirt that said: “Raton. Land of Enchantment. New Mexico.”

UND’s athletic trainer looked at the arena, looked down at his shirt and smiled.

That’s about all the team could do after a wild 24 hours in which UND boarded a flight to Denver for its first-round National Collegiate Hockey Conference playoff series against the Pioneers only to wind up in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Raton and Colorado Springs before finally arriving in Denver on Thursday night.

“It’s been a little crazy,” UND's leading scorer Jordan Kawaguchi said. “We’ve kind of been flying by the seat of our pants here. It’s been fun. We’ve had a pretty good attitude and it’s brought us closer together. It’s one of those things you have to laugh at.”

After UND’s plane got diverted from Denver to Albuquerque on Wednesday because of a blizzard in Colorado, the Fighting Hawks booked a charter bus to start the 500-mile trip to Denver. The team and its gear barely fit on the bus.

UND ate dinner in Sante Fe and continued to the small town of Raton, N.M., near the Colorado border. They arrived around midnight and spent Wednesday night there. A number of the players and staff members bought souvenirs at the hotel gift shop.

UND got up Thursday morning and continued the drive to Denver, but Interstate 25 was closed north of Colorado Springs, so the Fighting Hawks couldn’t make it to their scheduled 4:15 p.m. practice in Magness Arena.

Coach Brad Berry got in touch with Air Force head coach Frank Serratore, a former UND assistant coach, and asked about possibly practicing at Cadet Ice Arena in Colorado Springs.

Serratore was able to fit UND in before the Falcons practiced. Air Force is hosting Niagara in a best-of-three Atlantic Hockey playoff series this weekend.

“I want to thank Frank Serratore and Air Force for letting us come in here,” Berry said. “I know it was tight as far as finding a practice rink. We couldn’t get to Denver. And him being a (former UND coach), that’s a huge deal for him to open up his rink for us to practice.

“It was an awesome experience. A great experience. We haven’t been here to this rink recently and there’s a lot of history and tradition here.”

After practice, Interstate 25 opened up and UND traveled the final hour to Denver, arriving at about 7 p.m. Central -- 24 hours after landing in Albuquerque.

“You know what? It is what it is,” said Berry, whose team is traveling for a league playoff series for the first time since 2002. “We’ve been grinding all year and we’ll continue to grind. I firmly believe it was great team bonding. You’ve got to take the positives out of it. Guys flew to Albuquerque, they got on a bus, it was tight, everyone was double-seated all the way up. We got to Raton last night and had good stay there and everyone got back on the bus today with smiles on their faces.

“We firmly believe within our culture and our blue-collar mentality that anything that comes at us, we take it and move forward. We’ve gone through some adverse times this season and we keep bouncing back. We’re looking forward to the opportunity this weekend to playing Denver. Guys are ready. They’re looking forward to it. It’s a chance to try to move on.”

UND will open its best-of-three series at 8:08 p.m. Friday against the Pioneers. The Fighting Hawks need to win the series to keep their season alive.

“We’re probably going to have to make sure we’re dialed in a little more tomorrow night,” Kawaguchi said, “doing the little things to make sure we’re ready to go. I think after something like this, you have to laugh about it. But you also have to remember that we have a big series coming up this weekend and we have to make sure we’re mentally there for this weekend.”

Photo No. 1: A look at Albuquerque from the sky.

Photo No. 2: UND players exit the plane in Albuquerque.

Photo No. 3: The snow-covered hills near Taos, N.M.

Photo No. 4: Horses stand at the side of the highway along the New Mexico-Colorado border

Photo No. 5: A view of the mountains in Colorado.

Photo No. 6: UND skates at Cadet Ice Arena at United States Air Force Academy.

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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