Colton Poolman had a chance to turn pro last summer.
He didn't. He needed to complete a mission first.
The UND captain couldn't leave the program he loved -- and had been around since he was a child -- after the team missed the NCAA tournament in back-to-back years. He wanted to spend one final year with his class and bring the program back to the top of college hockey.
From the start, this team has been set on burying bad memories, destroying records and proving, as senior Cole Smith promised in November, that "we're here, and we're here for good."
On Day 1, they set the tone by wearing their black jerseys at home and routing Canisius, the team that kept UND out of the NCAA tournament a year ago.
In November, they won their first series in Denver's Magness Arena since 2003. Two weeks later, they beat rival Minnesota 9-3, scoring more goals than any Gopher opponent ever in Mariucci Arena, which opened in 1993.
By December, they had reclaimed the nation's No. 1 ranking for the first time since 2016.
In January, they set the record for the longest home winning streak in the history of Ralph Engelstad Arena, which opened in 2001.
And on Saturday night in Ralph Engelstad Arena, Poolman and his team added another unforgettable memory to a season full of them.
UND won the Penrose Cup as National Collegiate Hockey Conference champions in dramatic fashion, beating Western Michigan 2-1 on an overtime goal by Shane Pinto on Senior Night.
Pinto buried a rebound of a Matt Kiersted shot two minutes into overtime, skated to the corner and was met by his entire team. Even the players who were out of the lineup sprinted onto the ice in their dress clothes and piled up in the corner as the 11,837 in Ralph Engelstad Arena roared as loud as they have in four years.
"I think that's the best goal I've ever scored," Pinto said. "Just everything about it. Winning it for the seniors. Winning the Penrose Cup. Just the whole moment is something I'll never forget.
"It was insane. I really can't gather my thoughts yet."
NCHC commissioner Josh Fenton presented UND the Penrose Cup after the game. By next season, there will be a new white banner in the rafters of The Ralph for this conference championship. UND has won three in the last six years. It also won in 2015 and 2016.
For now, the Fighting Hawks (25-4-4, 16-3-3 NCHC) have only clinched a share of the title. They need one point next weekend at Omaha to win it outright over second-place Minnesota Duluth.
"We want it," Berry said. "We want it. We're going into Omaha with no other reason than to keep it outright. I think it goes a little deeper. When you have a taste of it right now, you want the whole thing. We're not greedy people, but when it comes to the Cup, we want to be greedy."
That's been the nature of this Fighting Hawks team.
"It's a pretty special group," Poolman said. "This whole year has been definitely a bit different than the last two years. I've loved every minute of it. I've cherished it. We've still got one weekend to go. We're going to try to win this thing outright, for sure. We want sole possession of it."
A message from the 1980 team
When UND players arrived at the arena Saturday morning, they were greeted by the 1980 NCAA national championship team, which was having a 40-year reunion.
That 1980 squad brought UND its third national championship and first in 17 years and talked to the current squad about their passion for the program.
"They talked to us about adding to the tradition," Pinto said. "It's something special to do. We just did that. Obviously, we have a bigger thing to win coming up here in April, but just to add to the tradition was cool."
UND played in a slug-it-out defensive affair against the Broncos. Neither team registered 20 shots on goal and offense was hard to come by for two teams that rank in the top five nationally in goals since Christmas.
UND's Collin Adams scored at 4:41 of the first period and Western Michigan's Paul Washe answered at 17:01 of the first. Then, the game went scoreless until a dramatic overtime.
A wild ending
Western Michigan appeared to win it on a goal by Rhett Kingston at 1:17 of overtime, but it was waved off for goalie interference. UND forward Jordan Kawaguchi tied up Western Michigan captain Hugh McGing, who was driving the net. McGing took out Fighting Hawks goalie Adam Scheel before the goal was scored.
Western Michigan coach Andy Murray was steamed by the call, arguing that McGing was pushed into the net by Kawaguchi.
UND coach Brad Berry said assistant coaches Dane Jackson and Karl Goehring saw the replay and told him to be prepared for it to be disallowed.
"They whispered in my ear a little bit there's a pretty good chance it's not going to be called (a goal) based on last night with what happened with a disallowed goal and stuff," Berry said. "Adam Scheel didn't have a chance to play the puck. Last night, their goaltender didn't have a chance to play the puck. Tonight, our goaltender didn't have a chance to play the puck. I think that's a big deal. That's hockey. It evens out at the end of the day and it evens out both ways."
When NCHC referee Joe Sullivan announced no goal, The Ralph erupted.
"Once they reversed that goal, you could just feel the momentum switched to us," Pinto said.
Just 43 seconds later, UND won it.
Pinto dug a puck off the end wall and sent it to Poolman at the point. Poolman sent a pass across to Kiersted, who hammered a one-timer on net. Western Michigan goalie Ben Blacker, starting for an injured Brandon Bussi, kicked the puck to the side of the crease, where Pinto buried it.
"I had a good view of it," Poolman said. "He had an open net. He had it there, and I was like, 'He's got this.' I was confident he was going to bury it."
It was quite a change of emotions in the span of 43 seconds.
"I remember my freshman year when we didn't win on Senior Night and it was horrible," Poolman said. "I was like, 'Oh no, are we going down that road again?' To win it the next shift or two, it was pretty special."
UND improved to 18-1 at home this season, adding one more memory to the list.
"We've won games in so many different ways," Poolman said. "That was another new, different way. I'm so proud of this team."