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9 ways UND and Arizona State's programs are tied together

Arizona State's Matthew Kopperud and UND's Tyler Kleven are two of their teams' best players. Their fathers were Grafton Spoilers teammates in the 1980s.

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Matthew Kopperud, Arizona State's leading goal-scorer of the last two years, is the son of former Grafton Spoilers player, John Kopperud.
Peter Vander Stoep / Arizona State athletics
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LAS VEGAS — Arizona State coach Greg Powers played club hockey for the Sun Devils in the 1990s.

His first coaching gig was an assistant job with Arizona State in 2000.

The head coach Powers worked under was Mickey Volcan, a member of UND's 1980 NCAA national championship team who went on to play in the NHL for the Hartford Whalers and Calgary Flames. Earlier this week, Volcan contacted Powers.

"I hadn't talked to him in years," Powers said.

But Volcan had to express his excitement about UND taking on Arizona State in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game at 9:07 p.m. Saturday in T-Mobile Arena.

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It will be the first-ever meeting between the schools in men's hockey, but the programs have an incredible number of ties heading into the game.

Grafton Spoilers teammates

Two of the best players on the ice will be Arizona State forward Matthew Kopperud, who led the Sun Devils in goals as a freshman (13) and a sophomore (22), and UND defenseman Tyler Kleven, who plays on the top pairing and is a second-round NHL draft pick.

Their fathers, John Kopperud and Chris Kleven, were high school hockey teammates for the Grafton Spoilers in 1981-82. Kopperud was a senior that year. Kleven was a freshman.

Kopperud moved from Grafton to Denver in 1988 and has been there ever since. Matthew grew up in Denver and committed to Arizona State while playing in the British Columbia Hockey League.

"When Matthew was young, he followed the Sioux," John said. "He had dreams of playing for them as a little kid. Then, he started playing in Denver and his allegiances changed a little bit to DU. Now, obviously, it's Arizona State."

Kopperud said North Dakota friends have been sending him U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game merchandise.

"It's really exciting," he said. "It's so cool. I know so many people who are going to be at the game. People have been like, 'You're coming, right?' It's going to be like a high school reunion. It's going to be so fun."

Kopperud is still close friends with his classmate, Tom Folske, whose son, David, now creates the pregame videos that play in Ralph Engelstad Arena.

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Matthew Kopperud is a junior forward for Arizona State.
Arizona State athletics

Brother battle

The Ness family will be a bit torn Saturday.

Griffin Ness is a junior forward at UND. His younger brother, Tucker, is a freshman defenseman at Arizona State.

"We've talked a lot about this game," Griffin said. "It's a big family event. My mom's pretty excited, and my dad as well. Hopefully, we're both in the lineup and we get to play against each other, but either way, I get to see him for a little bit, so it's going to be a fun experience."

Griffin is three years older than Tucker, so they've never played together or against each other.

"It's just been training in the summers," Griffin said. "We've grown up with the love of the game together."

Not only do the brothers play different positions, they also have vastly different sizes. Griffin is 5-foot-11, 170 pounds. Tucker is 6-foot-3, 219 pounds.

"My sister actually goes to ASU as well, so she'll be going (to the game)," Griffin said. "My dad's parents live in Arizona and they'll be going. There's a big Arizona tie to our family, so a lot of my parents' friends are going to make the trip. There's going to be a lot of people rooting us on. It's going to be interesting to see who they're all cheering for."

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It's no guarantee they'll both be in the lineup. Griffin has played in three of UND's six games; Tucker has played in two of Arizona State's eight games. But if they are, Griffin said he won't be taking it easy on his brother.

"If I see Tuck with the puck, I'm going to hit him," Griffin said. "It doesn't matter if he's my brother. When we're playing the game, it's a game we have to win, and I'm trying to treat it that way. Once that buzzer goes, he'll be my brother again. But when we're on the ice, I've got to play like it's any other game."

UND hockey vs. Manitoba - Oct. 1, 2022
Fighting Hawks forward Griffin Ness (14) stuffs the puck past Manitoba Bisons goaltender Brett Murphy (35) in the first period of an exhibition men's hockey game at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022.
Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

Fargo Davies Eagles

There's another North Dakota high school connection in the game.

Tyler Kleven was high school classmates and Fargo Davies teammates with Arizona State freshman forward Cade Stibbe.

They played for the Eagles in 2017-18. Stibbe led the team in scoring with 18 goals and 40 points. Kleven had nine goals and 16 points. Davies finished that season 20-5-2.

Stibbe, who played junior hockey in the BCHL, has not yet made his debut appearance for the Sun Devils.

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Arizona State freshman forward Cade Stibbe played prep hockey at Fargo Davies.
Michael Vosburg/Forum Communications Co.

Living with the Niedermayers

UND sophomore forward Matteo Costantini will be going head-to-head with an old roommate.

In 2020-21, Costantini signed to play for the Penticton Vees in the British Columbia Hockey League. The Ontario native moved in with the Niedermayer family in Penticton.

Jackson Niedermayer, now a sophomore defenseman at Arizona State, played on the Vees with Costantini. Jackson's father is Hockey Hall of Famer and four-time Stanley Cup champion Scott Niedermayer.

The pandemic caused problems for the BCHL that season, though. With the BCHL on hiatus and no guarantee it would return, Costantini opted to transfer to Sioux City in the United States Hockey League in January.

Scott is expected to be in attendance at the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game.

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Matteo Costantini celebrates after scoring a preseason goal with the Penticton Vees in the British Columbia Hockey League.
Cherie Morgan/Cherie Morgan Photography

Old USHL linemates

In the offseason, Arizona State added twin brothers Ty and Dylan Jackson out of the transfer portal from Northeastern.

The Jackson twins were prolific scorers in the USHL for the Dubuque Fighting Saints.

The third player on their line during the 2018-19 season was UND junior forward Riese Gaber. That trio combined for 50 goals and 134 points that season.

The following year, Dubuque broke up that line a little bit and moved Kopperud to the Jacksons' line. Gaber played with Ryan Beck (Colorado College rookie) and Stephen Halliday (Ohio State rookie).

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Riese Gaber played junior hockey for the Dubuque Fighting Saints.
Dan Hickling / Hickling Images

Clark Cup champs

That's not the only old linemate connection in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game.

Last season, Arizona State rookie forward Charlie Shoen spent a good part of the year at right wing on the top line for the Sioux City Musketeers. His center was UND freshman Owen McLaughlin and his left wing was UND freshman Dylan James.

They won the Clark Cup together.

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UND freshman Dylan James holds up the Clark Cup after winning it with the Sioux City Musketeers.
Sioux City Musketeers

A visit to Oceanside

Arizona State opened up a new rink, Mullett Arena, earlier this month.

That means it finally moved out of its old, outdated rink, Oceanside Ice Arena.

Believe it or not, UND has actually played a game in Oceanside.

During the 1978-79 season, UND traveled to Arizona to take on Northern Arizona, then a Division-I program. The teams played the series opener in Oceanside and the series finale in Flagstaff, Ariz.

Several UND players who suited up in that game in Oceanside are expected to be in Vegas for the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game, including Cary Eades, Marc Chorney and Paul Chadwick.

Nick Naumenko and the Jr. Sun Devils

Nick Naumenko, who starred as a defenseman at UND in the 1990s, is now the hockey director for the Jr. Sun Devils, a program for players from the 8U to 18U levels. They are based out of Mullett Arena and previously played out of Oceanside.

Naumenko played for UND from 1992-96, racking up 140 points. The only defenseman in UND history with more points is Bill Himmelright, who played from 1975-79 (149 points).

Naumenko still holds several school records for defensemen — freshman goals (10), freshman assists (24), freshman points (34), single-season goals (13) and career goals (38).

Naumenko will be in Vegas for the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game.

U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game

Who: UND vs. Arizona State.
When: 9:07 p.m. Central on Saturday.
Where: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas.
TV: Midco Sports (GF Ch. 27/622 HD).
Radio: The Fox (96.1 FM).
Stream: NCHChockey.com.

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 bschlossman@gfherald.com.
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