This season, UND may have its largest group of newcomers in 48 years, but the fresh-look squad brought back an old feeling to Ralph Engelstad Arena.
UND overwhelmed yet another opponent coming into the building, beating Niagara 6-2 in front of 11,386 fans Friday night, including Engelstad family members who were in town celebrating the arena's 20th anniversary.
The Fighting Hawks are now 30-2 in their last 32 home games, a stretch that now spans parts of four seasons. Only one team has beaten UND at home in that span — Omaha.
The Purple Eagles fell behind early — a recipe for disaster in The Ralph — and never recovered. UND was up 3-0 after one period and 5-0 after two.
Lake Superior State forward Ashton Calder scored two goals and added an assist in his UND debut. Sophomore Riese Gaber tallied three assists. Defensemen Ethan Frisch, Tyler Kleven and Jake Sanderson scored, while rookie forward Jake Schmaltz kept a family tradition alive by scoring a goal in his first-career game.
Schmaltz's cousins, Jordan and Nick, also scored goals in their first-career games at UND.
Goalie Zach Driscoll, a fifth-year senior transfer from Bemidji State, made 18 saves in his UND debut. Niagara's goals, scored by Shane Ott and Ryan Naumovski, came late in the third period after the Purple Eagles were down by six goals.
UND will go for the series sweep at 6:07 p.m. Saturday.
"It's easy to get ready for a game, that's for sure," Calder said about playing in The Ralph. "When you go out for warmups, it's pretty full out there already. So, that's pretty cool. The culture, the town, the team. . . they talked about it before I came here and it shows every time I come into the building. It gets me excited to play. Us players feed off the fans a lot."
UND coach Brad Berry talked with the team about the Engelstad family's presence before the game.
"We mentioned that the Engelstad family is in attendance, and the gracious gift they gave us," Berry said. "It's a way to pay them back for the appreciation of what they gave us. I think our guys felt that. They jumped out right away to show that."
The Fighting Hawks improved to 8-0 all-time against Niagara and 30-2 against Atlantic Hockey teams. The two losses came at Canisius in 2019, and they kept the Fighting Hawks out of the NCAA tournament that season.
UND players didn't need any reminders of those two losses. Even though Schmaltz is only a freshman and wasn't there, he recited them in his postgame interview.
"We saw it a few years ago with Canisius, how that went, and how it came to bite them in the butt," Schmaltz said. "I think we were really focused today. It was a solid team effort. So, it was fun out there."
UND's contributions came across the lineup.
Calder tied for the Western Collegiate Hockey Association goal lead a year ago with 16, but he didn't tally a single one on the power play.
On Friday, it took him less than a period to get a power-play goal, burying a rebound of a Gaber shot at 17:06 of the opening frame. It was his first power-play goal since Jan. 25, 2020, when he scored against a program that doesn't have an active team at the moment, Alaska Anchorage.
"It's nice," said Calder, who is positioned in the left circle. "They have me in that spot to shoot and score goals. I'm going to do my best to do that every night."
Berry learned just this week that Calder didn't score on the power play last season at Lake Superior State.
"I was scratching my head. . . how did that happen?" Berry said. "It was nice to get one out of the way right away from him. Guys were happy for him. He's a shooter and that's his spot. Hopefully, he gets a lot more of those."
Rookies Brent Johnson, Matteo Costantini and Jackson Kunz all tallied their first-career points. Costantini made a nice feed to set up Frisch for a first-period goal and Kunz made a nifty pass to Calder for a goal in the second.
In all, three of the four lines and all three defensive pairings had points.
"We've always been a four-line team," Berry said. "Guys getting opportunities and playing in situations. . . you can't replace that experience they're getting. I think they're doing a good job."