UND's transfers cherish this shot at the Penrose Cup
The Fighting Hawks added five transfers to their group this season. None have ever won a regular-season conference title.
OMAHA, Neb. — If there's a little urgency in Connor Ford's voice this week, it's understandable.
Ford spent the last four years at Bowling Green State University, one of the top programs in its college hockey conference.
Even so, the fifth-year senior has never lifted a college hockey trophy. He never won a MacNaughton Cup as a regular-season champ. He never won a Broadmoor Trophy as a postseason champ.
In fact, none of the five transfers UND brought in over the summer have come within six points of winning a league regular-season title.
So, they want to make the most of the opportunity they've earned this weekend. UND needs just one victory over Omaha in Baxter Arena to win the Penrose Cup as National Collegiate Hockey Conference champions for a third-straight year.
For UND juniors like Judd Caulfield and Ethan Frisch, winning league titles is all they've known. They've hoisted the Penrose every season.
But for guys like Ford, Zach Driscoll, Chris Jandric, Ashton Calder and Brady Ferner, it's an opportunity they don't want to slip.
"It's super special," Ford said. "I got to spend four years getting my butt kicked by Mankato in the regular season. So, it makes you really grateful to be in this position. I know most of the guys probably aren't — because they've won two in a row — but for me, this is very special."
Ford stressed the importance of UND taking care of business in Friday's series opener at 7:07 p.m. He doesn't want to rely on Colorado College upsetting Denver to give UND the Penrose. He also doesn't want to leave the title undecided heading into the final day of the regular season Saturday.
"Friday night is a must win," Ford said. "We're not messing around with it, leaving it to chance. We're going to go take care of business."
Although UND has won back-to-back Penrose Cups, a majority of the team has never won it — 14 of the 27 players are new.
"It's exciting," said Calder, who spent three years at Lake Superior State and won a league playoff title last year. "All of us guys who transferred in, especially from the old WCHA, we're excited. In that conference, Minnesota State has kind of had it for the last five years or so. It always seemed like it was going to be Mankato. I think that makes us want it even more, because we haven't had a regular-season championship yet. Some of the other guys might have them, but us new guys haven't."
UND also is attempting to achieve some history.
Only once in the 76-year history of the program has UND won three-straight regular-season conference titles — 1997, 1998 and 1999.
Players who were a part of all three titles include Jason Blake, David Hoogsteen, Jay Panzer, Adam Calder, Brad Williamson, Peter Armbrust, Brad DeFauw, Tom Philion, Tim O'Connell, Jeff Ulmer and Jason Ulmer, who is a volunteer coach with the current team.
Frisch, Caulfield, Gavin Hain, Mark Senden, Carson Albrecht and Harrison Feeney are hoping to achieve the same.
For the transfers, it's all new this year.
They left their old programs for a final go-around at UND. They've quickly found themselves chasing titles.
"This is the gold standard for college programs for a reason," Driscoll said. "Everyone knows growing up North Dakota is a really good program. It's not until you get in here and see what goes on that you understand why they're that good — the attention to detail, the work ethic everyone has and buys into. There's a reason, for sure, why they have this level of a program."
Ford, who is chasing his first college trophy, said he's happy about his decision to come to UND as a fifth-year senior instead of turning pro.
"This place has been as advertised," Ford said. "It's advertised as the Mecca of College Hockey and that's certainly what I've experienced."
No. 4 UND at No. 20 Omaha
When: 7:07 p.m. Friday, 7:07 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Baxter Arena, Omaha.
Records: UND 21-11-1 (16-5-1 NCHC); Omaha 20-14 (10-12).
Radio: The Fox (96.1 FM).