Reg Morelli, who delivered UND its first NCAA hockey national championship, dies at age 84

Reg Morelli after scoring the overtime winner in the 1959 NCAA national championship game. Photo by UND athletics.

Reg Morelli, one of UND's all-time great hockey players who delivered the program its first NCAA national championship in 1959, died Wednesday in Minot.

Morelli was 84.

"The North Dakota hockey family was saddened today to hear the passing of former UND hockey’s Reginald Morelli," UND coach Brad Berry said. "Reggie was instrumental in building the foundation of North Dakota hockey. He captured UND’s first national championship in 1959, scoring the overtime winner. Reggie played with pride, passion, skill and with an ultra-high compete level, all key characteristics that remain the identity of North Dakota hockey today. We will forever remember Reggie Morelli and will continue to hold him in our hearts. Our deepest sympathy goes out to Reggie’s wife, Brenda, and his family at this time. God bless.”

Morelli was one of the most influential players in program history both for what he did on and off the ice.

In 1959, Morelli scored the overtime game-winning goal in the NCAA national championship game, securing the program's first national title. Morelli put home a rebound of an Art Miller shot at 4:18 of the extra frame to clinch a 4-3 win over Michigan State at RPI Fieldhouse in Troy, N.Y.


Morelli was named the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA tournament, now known as the Frozen Four.

The 1959 team was honored in Ralph Engelstad Arena on the 60th anniversary of their championship last year. Morelli attended the celebration.

One year after his title-winning goal, Morelli was named a first-team All-American, one of the first in program history.

He tallied 132 points in just 85 games during his three seasons at UND, leading the team in both goals and points as a senior. His 65-point senior season set a school record -- one that stood for 19 years.

In 1977, Morelli became one of the earliest inductees into the UND Athletics Hall of Fame.

In 2001, the Western Collegiate Hockey Association named its top 50 all-time players for the league's 50th anniversary. Morelli was on the list.

His impact on the program continued throughout his life.

Morelli was one of the key figures in securing Ralph Engelstad's $104-million donation to build the arena that opened in 2001. Morelli, along with then-UND President Tom Clifford and UND Alumni Association President Earl Strinden, met with Engelstad and played a key role in getting the project completed.


When the arena was built, there was a large photo of Morelli hanging alongside UND's locker room doors. Morelli, his nose bloodied, was being lifted on the shoulders of his teammates after scoring the game-winner in the 1959 national championship game. Next to the photo, it said: "Through these doors pass champions. All others stay out."

Morelli helped with the on-site operation of the arena during its early days.

Reg Morelli celebrates after scoring the overtime winner in the 1959 NCAA national championship game in RPI Fieldhouse in Troy, N.Y. Photo by UND athletics.

Morelli also frequently spoke to UND hockey teams before their biggest moments and biggest games. Often times, he would lighten the mood.

He once joked to a UND team before an NCAA tournament game: "Play your game. Don't listen to the coaches, because they'll screw you up."

Morelli was in the locker room before UND's 2000 national championship victory over Boston College, the program's seventh title.

"That's a big-time inspiration," Lee Goren said of Morelli's presence moments after winning Most Outstanding Player.


Morelli's son, Matt, played at UND, too. His grandson, Mason, played at Omaha.

UND's first national championship team stayed connected throughout the years. They traded stories about that season when they reunited in January 2019 for a 60th anniversary celebration.

UND won back-to-back overtime games in the semifinals and finals to earn the national championship. After winning it, they traveled from Troy, N.Y., to New York City. They walked the Holland Tunnel after their bus broke down and even skated on the Rockefeller Center rink.

"We were always close together," goalie Bob Peabody said. "We always kept in touch with each other."

Reg Morelli (far right) scored the game-winning goal to lead UND to the 1959 NCAA national championship, the program's first. Morelli was honored with his teammates (from left) Guy LaFrance, Art Miller, Ed Thomlinson, Julian Brunetta and Joe Poole before a January 2019 game. Photo by Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

Schlossman has covered college hockey for the Grand Forks Herald since 2005. He has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top beat writer for the Herald's circulation division four times and the North Dakota sportswriter of the year once. He resides in Grand Forks. Reach him at
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