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Eight years after his recruiting visit, Zach Driscoll winds up between the pipes at UND

The Apple Valley, Minn., product is the first goalie in college hockey history to suit up for a team he's played against as a member of two others.

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Fighting Hawks goaltender Zach Driscoll, who transferred to UND from Bemidji State following the conclusion of the 2020-2021 hockey season, stops a puck during morning practice at Ralph Engelstad Arena on Wednesday, September 22, 2021. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

Zach Driscoll remembers his recruiting visit to UND.

He ate a pregame meal with Dave Hakstol. He sat next to Rocco Grimaldi’s parents, Rocco and Susie, and watched UND play a regular-season game against Minnesota Duluth. He spoke with UND assistant coach Dane Jackson and had an offer on the table to join the team in the future.

That was eight years ago.

Yes, 2013.

For reference, the National Collegiate Hockey Conference was less than a month old. It is now entering its ninth season.

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The goalie he watched play for UND that night, Clarke Saunders, is now 32 years old.

Another player he watched, sophomore forward Bryn Chyzyk, finished out that season, played two more in college, won an NCAA national championship, graduated from law school and landed a job as a general manager of a United States Hockey League team.

It was that long ago.

Driscoll did not commit to UND after his visit, though. The timeline didn’t match up. He wanted to go to college in 2016 after a year of junior hockey. UND needed a goalie in 2015, expecting standout Zane McIntyre to turn pro.

So, Driscoll committed to the other school that was heavily recruiting him, St. Cloud State, in March 2014.

That was it, he thought, with North Dakota.

But a wild set of circumstances followed.

Driscoll played a year of junior hockey, suited up for a season in St. Cloud, opted to transfer, returned to juniors for another year, played three standout seasons at Bemidji State, endured a global pandemic that led the NCAA to allow fifth-year players and ended up right back in Grand Forks where he was nearly a decade ago visiting as a prospect.

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“Just a seven- or eight-year recruiting process,” Driscoll joked.

Believe it or not, Driscoll is not the oldest player in the NCHC this season. He’s not the second-, third-, fourth- or fifth-oldest, either. In fact, he barely cracks the top 10.

Driscoll is one of 22 players in the NCHC who will be playing a fifth year of college hockey after the NCAA ruled last season, 2020-21, didn’t count against anyone’s eligibility because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Driscoll did not intend to go this route, even a few months ago.

He planned to turn pro at the end of last season, one in which he led Bemidji State within a game of the NCAA Frozen Four.

“With the career I had at Bemidji, I really did think I was going to be able to have opportunities to play at the pro level,” Driscoll said.

He didn’t receive the offers he hoped. Driscoll heard from ECHL teams and one European franchise sent him a contract.

“I had to make that call,” Driscoll said. “With what I was offered, I thought it made more sense to go back to college and develop and get games at a high level.”

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UND goaltender Adam Scheel turned pro on April 1. Two days later, Driscoll entered the transfer portal with the intention of going to UND. On his transfer portal entry, he designated it, “Do not contact,” so he didn’t have to bother with other schools calling and emailing him.

In less than a week, he was officially a Fighting Hawk.

“I was already out of Bemidji,” Driscoll said of when he entered the portal. “I had packed up the house and was on my way moving home when things ramped up. It happened pretty fast. There were already top-named goalies in the portal. Guys were already coming out when I decided to go in. Once that was the way I decided I was going to go, the process from start to finish happened pretty fast.”

Making college hockey history

Driscoll will make college hockey history this season.

According to College Hockey News databases, he is the first goalie to have played against his current team as a member of two other teams.

As a freshman at St. Cloud State, Driscoll started both games of a series in the National Hockey Center. The Huskies didn’t score a goal for Driscoll that weekend and UND swept 4-0 and 3-0.

“I lived with Shane Gersich with my billet family in Omaha,” Driscoll said of their time together in junior hockey. “He scored a hat trick on me that weekend, so that didn’t go very well.”

Driscoll also made two starts for Bemidji State against UND — both in Ralph Engelstad Arena.

The first came on Oct. 13, 2018, his first start as a Beaver. That one ended in a 1-1 tie. He also played against UND the following season one time. Bemidji State led 1-0 late in that one, but Jordan Kawaguchi scored the tying goal with just 5:47 left in the third period and Westin Michaud won it in overtime.

“I definitely had a better run in Bemidji,” Driscoll said.

This season, UND will play six games and one exhibition against Driscoll’s old teams.

None of his old teammates are left in St. Cloud, but plenty are still at Bemidji State, where Driscoll has an undergraduate degree and will soon earn his masters.

Fitting in with the new team

Driscoll is quickly fitting in with his new teammates.

At one summer scrimmage, Bowling Green transfer Connor Ford, a longtime rival in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, was on Driscoll’s team when Ford accidentally tipped a puck on his own net.

Driscoll stopped it, then hollered at Ford: “Hey, we’re on the same team now!”

Driscoll’s teammates also are getting to know him as a master at unconventional sports. He’s one of the best ping pong players on the team. He’s won two spikeball tournaments. He even played doubles in the annual Grand Cities Pickleball Tournament over the summer with former UND forward Jasper Weatherby and took second place.

But the attention has turned back to hockey, where Driscoll is finally playing for UND a mere eight years after his recruiting visit.

“I don’t think I would have gone anywhere else back to college hockey if it wasn’t North Dakota,” Driscoll said. “For me to develop here with the staff, the facilities, the program. . . to get back and prove myself in the NCHC, it’s such a good hockey conference, it made sense for me and my career.”

The NCHC's fifth-year seniors

Colorado College

None

Denver

F Ryan Barrow

F Cameron Wright (Bowling Green transfer)

Miami

None

Minnesota Duluth

F Kobe Roth

F Koby Bender

F Casey Gilling (Miami transfer)

D Matt Anderson

D Louie Roehl

G Ben Patt

Omaha

F Martin Sundberg

F Kevin Conley

F Brannon McManus (Minnesota transfer)

D Nate Knoepke

North Dakota

F Connor Ford (Bowling Green transfer)

G Zach Driscoll (Bemidji St. transfer)

St. Cloud State

F Easton Brodzinski

F Kevin Fitzgerald

D Seamus Donohue

D Luke Jaycox

G David Hrenak

Western Michigan

F Ethen Frank

F Paul Washe

F Josh Passolt

Oldest players in the NCHC

1. Ben Patt, Minnesota Duluth, 25 years, 139 days

2. Seamus Donohue, St. Cloud State, 25 years, 127 days

3. Josh Passolt, Western Michigan, 25 years, 115 days

4. Kevin Fitzgerald, St. Cloud State, 25 years, 68 days

5. Easton Brodzinski, St. Cloud State, 25 years, 54 days

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