UND to play hockey game in smallest venue in 14 years
SCHENECTADY, N.Y.--UND players dropped their bags in the locker room. Then, they walked through the lobby to get their first look at Frank Messa Rink on Thursday night. A city league game was just ending and one of the locals stopped to chat with...
SCHENECTADY, N.Y.-UND players dropped their bags in the locker room.
Then, they walked through the lobby to get their first look at Frank Messa Rink on Thursday night.
A city league game was just ending and one of the locals stopped to chat with the UND players as he stepped off the ice.
"Not quite the same as your rink boys, is it?" he said.
No, it's not.
The arena where UND will take on Union at 3 p.m. Saturday afternoon in a New Year's Eve special seats roughly 2,225 people.
It will be the smallest venue that the UND men's hockey team has played a game in since Nov. 1, 2002, when it played a single game at Princeton's historic Hobey Baker Rink.
Messa Rink's capacity is about 200 less than Bemidji State's old John S. Glas Fieldhouse, which had seating on just one side of the venue.
Even if Messa Rink sells out-and it's expected to despite the fact that students are on Christmas vacation-it will be the smallest crowd to watch a UND game since the 2013 NCAA regionals in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Although the venue is vastly different than most rinks in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, there's clearly a charm to it for the coaching staff and players, who grew up playing in venues like these.
Head coach Brad Berry has never been to Messa Rink. The closest he's come is 20 miles down the road in Albany, where UND played for the 2001 national championship in Berry's first year as an assistant coach.
Berry, like the players, took five minutes Thursday to check out the venue, including the memorabilia in the lobby.
The press box is behind the net, not in the center of the rink like usual. The roof of the building is dome-shaped and, uniquely, wooden. There are no video screens for replays.
A handful of banners hang from the ceiling including three colorful ones that stand out-a 2012 NCAA Frozen Four banner from Union's trip to Tampa, a 2014 NCAA Frozen Four banner from Philadelphia and a 2014 NCAA national champions banner.
There are seats on two sides of the venue. On one side, they are dull yellow bleachers, a dead giveaway that Messa Rink was built in the 1970s. The other side is wooden bleachers.
"It's going to get loud in here," one player said as the team filtered back out to the bus.
The showdown between two of the last three NCAA national champions will be a key one for UND, which will play without stars Tyson Jost (World Juniors) and Brock Boeser (wrist), while Union boasts the nation's top two scorers in Mike Vecchione and Spencer Foo.
Berry said the coaching staff is starting to monitor the Pairwise Rankings, which determine the 16-team NCAA tournament field.
UND will enter the second half of the season at No. 9. Union is No. 5. And there are bonus points available for key road wins. This one would qualify.
"We know this game against Union is a huge game," Berry said. "You have two teams that are very close together in the Pairwise and this is a big deal. This is our last nonconference game. We want to make sure we end the right way in nonconference.
"I know a lot of times we play a majority of our nonconference games at home. The ones we have on the road are big. Road games are key on Pairwise Rankings."
UND is only able to play a single game and not a series because of the NCAA's game limit. This is essentially the back half of the New York City game played earlier this month against Boston College in Madison Square Garden.
Union will come back to Grand Forks for a two-game series next season.
"They're pretty hot," Berry said of Union. "They've lost three games all year. They are on a roll. So I think it will make sure to get us playing our best game, knowing that we'll have to play our best game against them."