UND embraces early season hockey road trips
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The University of North Dakota hockey season officially starts in this picturesque city, where downtown is nestled between the banks of Cook Inlet and the mountains.
The hockey team left Wednesday, Oct. 4 — allowing enough time to arrive, adjust for the three-hour time difference and practice once — making it the longest trip it will take all year.
Outside of practice and the games, there’s not a lot to do. So, the players spend time in each other’s rooms, finding food in the downtown area and getting to know each other better than they did before.
It may be a coincidence that UND’s two best teams of the past decade — the 2015-16 NCAA national championship squad and the 2010-11 Frozen Four team — both started their seasons with long road trips, but it certainly didn’t hurt the team bonding process.
In 2010-11, UND opened the season with two games in Anchorage, just as the Fighting Hawks will do at 10:07 p.m Friday, Oct. 6, and 10:07 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 7, in Sullivan Arena.
The 2015-16 title team opened the season with two games in Portland, Maine, followed by road trips to Burlington, Vt., and Colorado Springs, Colo., in the first month.
“I love road trips,” UND junior defenseman Hayden Shaw said. “It’s fun, for sure. You build some team camaraderie. You can’t really leave each other’s side. You get along or else … there’s really no other choice. It’s a blast. It’s basically a sleepover with your best friends in a hotel.”
UND captain Austin Poganski said: “It’s ideal for a first away series. We’re using it as a team-bonding exercise. A lot of guys get to see different sides of guys that they haven’t seen when they’re on the road.”
When the team is on the road, they get paired with roommates. Oftentimes, it’s not the same guys they live with during the year in Grand Forks.
“It forces you to be together and do a lot of team things and be on the same page,” UND coach Brad Berry said. “I think it’s good early in the schedule.”
The games themselves haven’t typically been easy in Anchorage, though.
UND holds a slight edge in the all-time series in Anchorage, going 17-14-1 against the Seawolves. That’s a stark contrast to the 28-3-4 record it has against the Seawolves outside of Alaska.
“It’s a tough environment,” Berry said. “Going back in the history of the WCHA days, it’s a tough place to play. We’re going to have our hands full against an older, experienced team.”
The Seawolves are coming off of a last-place finish in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association a year ago, but they bring back 13 upperclassmen from that team. Anchorage beat Simon Fraser 6-1 in its exhibition game. The Seawolves are the second-oldest team in college hockey, only behind Bemidji State.
UND, meanwhile, is coming off of a 6-2 exhibition win over the University of Manitoba. It opens the season with six straight nonconference games.
“We don’t have too many nonconference games,” Poganski said. “And those are the ones that can save you down the stretch or get in your way down the stretch. They are huge games. We can’t afford to have any lulls in those two games.”