Reg Morelli's family says 'it's incredible' that UND will wear helmet stickers to honor the all-time great
OMAHA, Neb. -- The UND men's hockey program has honored past players in numerous ways over the years.
But it has seldom done so by placing recognitions on the team's game day gear.
That will change this season.
When No. 1 UND takes the ice for the first time at 3:35 p.m. today against Miami in Baxter Arena, all Fighting Hawks players will have stickers on their helmets honoring all-time great Reg Morelli, who died last month in Minot at the age of 84.
"It's incredible," said Reg's son, Matt, who played at UND from 1987-91. "I'm looking forward to seeing it. I was kind of shocked when I heard they were doing it. My brother and I got a little teary-eyed. Obviously, they thought pretty highly of him to do something like that."
The decal, which was designed by Jodi Johnson of Tag Up, will be on the back left side of the helmet. It has his initials, RM, in large letters. Circling his initials, it says "Reginald 'Reggie' Morelli." Below it, the decal has the years of his life, 1935 to 2020, with a star in between.
The star has special significance.
It is for UND's first NCAA national title, which Morelli delivered in 1959 with the overtime winner against Michigan State in Troy, N.Y. Morelli knocked home a rebound of an Art Miller shot at 4:18 of the extra session to help the UND hockey program take that final step toward becoming a powerhouse team.
Since Morelli's golden goal, no college hockey program has won more NCAA national titles.
The Fighting Hawks now have eight of them: 1959, 1963, 1980, 1982, 1987, 1997, 2000 and 2016.
Morelli came to UND in 1956 from Hamilton, Ont., where he grew up with 15 siblings. He was the youngest boy and second-youngest of the 16 children.
"He came from such a humble background," Matt said. "He came from a real big family that was poor. I think he was the only kid in his family who went to college, because he got a scholarship to play hockey. He kind of came from nothing and he always wanted to treat people well.
"(Going to UND) was his opportunity. When he talked about the program, you'd hear a lot of stories. He would do anything to help it. And he always made time for everyone, no matter who it was."
It didn't take long for him to make an impact at UND.
Back then, freshmen couldn't play varsity. But they scrimmaged the varsity team and beat them. Two years later, Morelli's junior year, that group helped the program win its first national title. Matt has a black and white recording of that game.
During his senior year, Morelli led UND in both goals (34) and points (65), while bringing home first-team All-American honors. The only first-team All-Americans to proceed Morelli were John Noah, Ben Cherski, Spike Schultz, Bill Reichart and Bill Steenson.
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.
Building The Ralph
But Morelli's impact went far beyond the ice.
He continued to be involved with the program throughout the years and was a major player in securing the $104-million gift from Ralph Engelstad to build UND's current hockey arena. 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.
"He was such good friends with Ralph," Matt said. "Nobody really knew how close they were, because they didn't talk about it. But when it got down to crunch time and Ralph wanted to make that big gift, he trusted Reggie. He needed someone who was closer (to Grand Forks) than he was to keep an eye on the project and make sure everything was going according to plan."
The arena opened in October 2001. Morelli had a prominent spot in it.
A large photo of Morelli was placed next to 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."
"He loved the program," Matt said. "He'd do anything, even in a quiet way, that he could to make other peoples' jobs or lives easier. He did it without sometimes telling people what he was going to do. There was generosity in so many things he did. It's just coming to surface all the things he used to do. We're hearing about things we've never heard before. . . things that flew under the radar."
Morelli 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.
Reggie and his wife, Brenda, had four children: Matt, Mike, Pat and Gina.
Fittingly, one of his grandchildren, Mason, served as team captain at Omaha, where Reg's helmet sticker will first appear.
"He liked to do things for the program, but he never wanted any recognition for it," Matt said. "He did it in such a quiet way."