UND men's hockey drawing a crowd
When the UND men's hockey team pulled up to Alfond Arena in Maine last month, an arena worker greeted them. "Glad to have you here," he said before pausing and revising his statement. "Our ticket office is glad to have you here." That's been an o...
When the UND men's hockey team pulled up to Alfond Arena in Maine last month, an arena worker greeted them.
"Glad to have you here," he said before pausing and revising his statement. "Our ticket office is glad to have you here."
That's been an overriding theme for the Sioux during the first seven weeks of the season. Wherever they've played, large crowds have followed.
At home, they are averaging a touch over capacity (11,669). The Sioux are outdrawing three National Hockey League teams (Thrashers, Islanders and Coyotes), every minor league team in North America and traditional men's basketball powerhouses such as UCLA, UConn, Duke, Texas and Florida.
Despite the fact that the students will be vacating their near-2,000 seats for Thanksgiving weekend, Ralph Engelstad Arena is expecting more sellouts when the University of Notre Dame comes to town (7:37 tonight, 7:07 p.m. Saturday) for a nonconference series.
"That doesn't ever go unnoticed," UND coach Dave Hakstol said of the fan support. "It's never forgotten here. Our students are going to be gone this weekend and the building is still going to be sold out. That means there will be some new faces in the building. Hopefully, we can go out and play real well in front of them."
The Sioux have been just as popular on the road.
Bemidji State drew a home record of 4,373 for both games against the Sioux. Those are the only two sellouts that the Beavers have had this season.
A week later, UND went to Orono, Maine, and Maine drew its largest crowd in three years.
The next road trip was to Wisconsin. With UND in town, the Badgers registered their only sellout of the season so far.
And last weekend, Nebraska-Omaha drew the second-largest hockey crowd in the state's history (11,181) to watch a highly-entertaining 6-5 Sioux victory on Friday night.
Factoring into the large crowds on the road are Sioux fans who travel to the series and UND graduates who live nearby and make it a point to get to the games when the Sioux are in town. An estimated 1,500 to 2,000 were on hand last weekend.
"It felt like we were at home because there were so many Sioux fans," UND senior Matt Frattin said. "We kind of get fan support everywhere we go. Everywhere we go, we have fans."
Sophomore Corban Knight added: "It was awesome seeing all the Sioux jerseys and fans in the stands last weekend. We're on the road, but it feels like home. You go to places like that and you realize we do have the best fans in college hockey. A lot goes back to the tradition the Sioux have. People graduate and move on from here, but they are still Sioux for life."
Series pivotal to Pairwise Rankings
Nonconference games are almost equally as important as league games in the Pairwise Rankings - the formula used to select the 16-team NCAA tournament field in March.
Because there are so few nonconference games each season, it raises the level of importance.
UND currently sits at 1-2-1 in nonconference play after getting swept at Maine in October. Only two games against non-WCHA teams remain after this weekend -- a home series against Robert Morris University (Pa.) in January -- which means this weekend's games will strongly factor into UND's positioning come the end of the season.
"We know what nonconference means," Hakstol said. "Nonconference is so important. This is an outstanding hockey team that we're playing against. They are a very complete team. They are good in all areas. I think we're going to look back on this and know it was a key series. Certainly, going into it, I think it's a key series. Not only that, it's a fun challenge to play against the top team in the CCHA."
Another top team
Notre Dame (9-3-1, 7-2-1 Central Collegiate Hockey Association) currently sits atop its league's standings and ranks No. 11 in the country.
It's yet another marquee matchup for the Sioux, who will now play a sixth consecutive series against a team ranked in the top 13 nationally.
Previous top-13 opponents include Maine, Denver, Minnesota-Duluth, Wisconsin and Nebraska-Omaha. The Sioux are 5-5 during the stretch, losing twice at Maine and sweeping the Badgers in Madison.
According to the KRACH rating system, UND has played by far the most difficult schedule in the country to this point.
"We've been playing good teams all the way along," Hakstol said. "We've done a great job in some areas on some nights. We've been a little bit less than that on other nights. I'm happy with the progress we're making. We're winning games against good teams. This weekend might be our biggest challenge yet. Notre Dame is a good team, they are playing extremely well. It's the next step in our season. It's an important test."
This is UND's first trip to Grand Forks since 1999, when they split with the Sioux. . . UND played the Fighting Irish last season in Chicago. The teams skated to a tie. . . This weekend's games are the Subway Holiday Classic. UND is 10-5-1 in the Subway Holiday Classic. . . UND junior forward Brett Hextall is without a point in the last seven games -- the longest stretch of his career.
Reach Schlossman at (701) 780-1129; (800) 477-6572, ext. 129; or send e-mail to email@example.com .
No. 11 Notre Dame
at No. 9 UND
When: 7:37 tonight, 7:07 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Ralph Engelstad Arena.
TV/radio: FSSN, Midco Sports Network (GF Ch. 27); The Fox (96.1 FM).
Records: UND 8-5-1 (7-3 WCHA); Notre Dame 9-3-1 (7-2-1 CCHA).
Of note: This is Notre Dame's first trip to Grand Forks since 1999.