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UND MEN'S HOCKEY: UND chooses different route to Omaha

The drive to Omaha is a fairly easy seven-hour jaunt straight down Interstate 29. UND will not be making that trek Thursday. "We're gonna try a different mode of transportation," UND coach Dave Hakstol said. After back-to-back years of travel mis...

The drive to Omaha is a fairly easy seven-hour jaunt straight down Interstate 29.

UND will not be making that trek Thursday.

“We’re gonna try a different mode of transportation,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said.

After back-to-back years of travel mishaps to Omaha, UND has decided to take a charter flight to and from this weekend’s series between the No. 1-  and No. 5-ranked teams in the country.

Two years ago, after winning the outdoor game at T.D. Ameritrade Park, UND ran into a raging blizzard during its overnight trip back to Grand Forks. The team got stuck in Sisseton, S.D., for two days as the highway closed.

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Food options were limited, but the team was able to find a hotel.

Last season, UND captain Dillon Simpson became ill with the flu during a Sunday series finale. It eventually spread to nearly a dozen members of the team, and they were vomiting the whole trip back home to Grand Forks.

“I’d rather be stuck for two days than go through that again,” UND senior Michael Parks said.

Road trips can provide adventures and UND will finally be headed away from Ralph Engelstad Arena. It’s the team’s first road trip in a month and a half as UND spent January on a lengthy homestand. Its last road game was at Denver on Dec. 14.

UND will now have six of its last 10 regular-season games on the road. Trips to Kalamazoo, Mich., (Western Michigan) and Oxford, Ohio, (Miami) are on the docket, too.

“It’s always challenging going on the road, but in a way, I think this group is excited to go on the road,” said Hakstol, whose team is 7-2 outside of Grand Forks this season. “We’ve been home for a long time. It’s been a great stretch here, but I think this group is excited to get on the road.”

The players agreed.

“I think guys are itching to get out of town a little bit,” UND senior defenseman Andrew Panzarella said. “I know Gordy, Connor Gaarder, has been talking all week about how he can’t wait to get on the plane. It’s fun to get out of town and get on the road with everyone for a while.”

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The road trips won’t be easy.

The three road opponents remaining all have winning records Nebraska Omaha (15-6-3) is ranked No. 5 nationally. Miami (15-9) is ranked No. 9. Western Michigan (11-10-3) is unranked, but is one of the hottest teams in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. The Broncos are 8-2-2 in the last 12 games.

This weekend’s series comes against a Mavericks team that hasn’t been swept this season and has an 8-3-1 record in the CenturyLink Center.

“They’re a good team,” Hakstol said. “We’re going into their place. We’re going into their building. I’m sure they’ll have a good crowd on hand. That’s our league. It’s going to be a great test for us.”

And a challenge may await the team when it tries to head home.

“I just heard there’s a 90 percent chance of snow on Saturday night,” Panzarella said. “So, maybe there will be an extended stay in Omaha or Sisseton or wherever. It could get interesting.”

Stecher, Olson skate

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UND defenseman Troy Stecher and forward Trevor Olson continue to skate at practice for UND.

It’s not out of the question that they could suit up for a game or two this weekend.

Stecher, who returned to practice last week, hasn’t played since Dec. 6, when he injured his leg against Lake Superior State. He has missed the last eight games (UND is 6-2 without him).

Olson also rejoined practice last week after being out for six games with mononucleosis. He hasn’t played since Christmas break.

Forward Colten St. Clair, who missed eight games with a concussion, returned to the lineup Saturday night against the Tigers and tallied an assist.

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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