UND defenseman Matt Kiersted spent a week at teammate Cole Smith's home in Brainerd, Minn., this summer.

One morning, Kiersted woke up and walked upstairs to eat breakfast. He noticed Smith wasn't there.

Kiersted then looked out the window and saw why Smith is nearly impossible to beat in UND's annual fitness testing.

Smith was already awake, outside and doing lunges in the front yard with his sisters.

"Smitty is a special breed," Kiersted said. "He's just a guy who's a competitor and he'll do anything to win."

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For the third time in four years, Smith has won UND's Iron Man competition, which is an accumulation of preseason, off-ice workouts. Smith, a senior forward and alternate captain, also won the competition as a freshman and a junior.

The last player to win the competition three times was Chris Porter from 2004-06.

Smith, an exercise science major, might have had it a little bit easier this season.

Senior captain Colton Poolman, his biggest competitor over the last three years and the guy he lost to in 2017, was held out of some workouts for precautionary reasons to make sure he's 100 percent healthy for the season, which begins at 7:07 p.m. Saturday with an exhibition game against the University of Manitoba.

Senior forward Zach Yon finished second, followed by Jacob Bernard-Docker, Collin Adams and Josh Rieger.

"Cole Smith winning it. . . I don't think there's a big surprise there," UND coach Brad Berry said. "He's just an athlete. He's a competitor. He hates to lose. He's a guy who brings it every single day whether it's on the ice or off the ice. He's ready to go in the mornings. He gets up early in the morning and his day starts fast. Everything he does is that way. It's great having a leader who has those attributes, because it resonates with the rest of the team.

"I think the biggest thing for us is other guys taking a step -- guys like Jacob Bernard-Docker and other guys who came to our program a year ago that have taken a step physically. That's a big deal. I'm very happy with what they did in the summer and it translates to the fall here."

Smith said he spends the summer trying to become more explosive and powerful. It has helped in the Iron Man, which features tests such as the mile run, shuttle run, vertical jump, broad jump, bench press, sled push, pull-ups, pro-test and on-ice conditioning.

"When I'm home by myself or when we're not here as a team working out, I work on little things on my own to try to improve my game on and off the ice," Smith said.

Last season, Smith was on a line alongside Gavin Hain and Mark Senden that unexpectedly turned into UND's best and most effective unit. That trio finished 1-2-3 on the team in plus-minus, registering a combined plus-45. They also chipped in offensively more than expected.

Smith finished the season with five goals and 16 points, drawing NHL scouts who are intrigued by his combination of size (6-foot-3, 197 pounds), physicality and speed.

Smith will likely, once again, start this season on a line with Senden, but the coaching staff is considering moving Hain, a Philadelphia Flyers draft pick, to a more traditionally offensive scoring line.

After narrowly missing the NCAA tournament last season, Smith said it fueled some of the workouts this summer.

"We had a really salty feeling in our stomach at the end of last year," he said. "I think that's kind of pushed us. We came in the summer, we had that drive and focus, working our butts off all summer. We're finally here to our first game week. September has been a long, long month. It's a grueling, grind. . . preseason in college hockey. We're just ready to get going and playing."

UND's Iron Man winners since 1995

2019 - Cole Smith, senior

2018 - Cole Smith, junior

2017 - Colton Poolman, sophomore

2016 - Cole Smith, freshman

2015 - Tucker Poolman, sophomore

2014 - Bryn Chyzyk, junior

2013 - Derek Rodwell, senior

2012 - Corban Knight, senior

2011 - Derek Rodwell, sophomore

2010 - Matt Frattin, senior

2009 - Chris VandeVelde, senior

2008 - Chay Genoway, junior

2007 - Chay Genoway, sophomore

2006 - Chris Porter, senior

2005 - Chris Porter, junior

2004 - Chris Porter, sophomore

2003 - Matt Jones, junior

2002 - Ryan Sofie, senior

2001 - Ryan Sofie, junior

2000 - Ryan Sofie, sophomore

1999 - Jason Ulmer, senior

1998 - Tom Philion, senior

1997 - Tom Philion, junior

1996 - Tom Philion, sophomore

1995 - Tom Philion, freshman