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TOM MILLER: New nickname the only thing to boo

Coming into the season, some UND men's hockey followers raised questions about the program's ability to maintain the elite status it had built. UND would see a new head coach, a new goaltender, 11 freshmen and eventually a new nickname this year....

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Coming into the season, some UND men’s hockey followers raised questions about the program’s ability to maintain the elite status it had built.

UND would see a new head coach, a new goaltender, 11 freshmen and eventually a new nickname this year.

All of those elements were on display Friday night and UND’s new Fighting Hawks nickname -- making its men’s hockey Ralph Engelstad Arena debut -- was the only thing the home fans could boo during a smooth 5-1 victory over the University of Denver.

Without coach Dave Hakstol, goaltender Zane McIntyre and a large 2014-15 senior class, UND continues to produce behind star freshman Brock Boeser (two goals), emerging goaltender Cam Johnson (22 of 23 saves) and coach Brad Berry (13-2-2).

“We have pretty much the same coaching staff, with the same traditions and culture,” UND forward Drake Caggiula said. “They’re letting us play our game. (Berry) is doing a great job as head coach, giving us our systems and providing a great locker room. The assistants are also doing a great job working with us on skill development.”

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UND attempted to ease fans into the new nickname. The team wasn’t introduced as the Fighting Hawks.

The first public mention of the nickname came during coaching staff introductions. It was a smart move by UND because no one was going to boo over Berry’s name.

But the band-aid was ripped off thanks to Denver’s five power plays, which ended with an announcement of “the Fighting Hawks are at full strength.”

The mention of the new nickname drew a chorus of boos, followed by a chant of “Sioux Forever” each of the five occurrences.

It was a curious boo from the student section, which by most accounts was the largest supporting segment of the Fighting Hawks nickname during the voting process.

“I heard them,” Johnson said. “I actually liked that. I was laughing at first.”

UND fans might need more time to warm up to the new nickname, but the team itself looks a lot like the old Fighting Sioux.

The sixth-youngest team in the country -- and the youngest team in the NCHC -- has No. 4 UND off to its best start since Zach Parise’s team in 2003-04 went 14-2 to start the year.

Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, tmiller@gfherald.com or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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