UND’s Josh Rieger, who scored his first-career goal, was eating a pound of buffalo wings at the Cherry Cricket when he found out he was playing

North Dakota defenseman Josh Rieger (20) and Denver's Hank Crone (37) skate in front of the Cherry Cricket advertisement on UND's bench. Rieger was at the Cherry Cricket when he found out he was playing Saturday night and he rushed to the arena. Courtesy of Shannon Valerio/University of Denver

By Brad Schlossman

DENVER — Josh Rieger wasn’t supposed to play Saturday night.

So, he didn’t take the bus to Magness Arena with the team at 4:50 p.m.

Instead, Rieger and Zach Yon — the two players not scheduled to play — walked from the hotel to the Cherry Cricket to grab dinner. Rieger ate a pound of buffalo wings.

Then, his phone rang.

Back at the arena, defenseman Jonny Tychonick had fallen ill with the flu and wasn’t going to be able to play. Rieger was going to have to go in for him.

After realizing he wasn’t at the rink, athletic trainer Mark Poolman tried calling Rieger. There was no answer. Then, Poolman tried Yon. He didn’t answer, either.

Equipment manager Dan Johannson then FaceTimed Rieger.

“We knew something was up,” Rieger said.

Josh Rieger

He answered. Johannson asked Rieger if he was in the rink. Rieger said, no, they were at the Cherry Cricket, about five minutes away.

“He told me, yeah, you’ve got to go out for warmups. Jonny’s not feeling good. I’m like, ‘Oh, okay.’ So, I ordered and Uber and paid our bill.

“I was panicking a bit.”

Rieger asked Johansson what time warmups started.

“6:29.”

Rieger got in the Uber and stared at the clock.

“I sat in the backseat and was like 6:27. . . 6:28. . .6:29,” Rieger said. “I got here at 6:31.”

Warmups had already started.

“Team was already on the ice,” Rieger said. “I hit the back door and was in a full sprint. I was grabbing my tie, trying to undo it as I ran. I was freaking out. I was shaking pretty good.”

Rieger quickly changed and got onto the ice seven minutes into warmups.

Rieger usually arrives at the arena three hours before games, so this was quite a bit out of his routine.

“I tried my best not to think about it,” Rieger said. “I’m usually at the rink about three hours before the game, doing my own thing. If I’m not playing, I usually show up halfway through warmups, just watching. I wasn’t expecting to be here early by any means. I just got out there, did a couple of laps and got my head in there as quick as I could.”

The night turned out to be special for Rieger.

The junior defenseman, playing his 26th career game, scored his first-career goal in the first period.

Freshman forward Judd Caulfield made a no-look pass to Rieger in space and the defender snapped a shot past the glove side of 6-foot-6 Denver goalie Magnus Chrona.

“I came off the bench and I was skating in,” Rieger said. “At first, I thought Judd was going to look me off. Then, I got it. I shot it and turned back to get into position. I didn’t know I scored until I saw the Sioux fans were up. Then, it clicked in my head that it went in and I was kind of excited.

“I just started shaking, smiling and I saw everyone race over to me. I was headed to the bench and half the guys were leaning over. It was pretty cool.”

UND won the game 4-1 to take five of six points from No. 2 Denver.

Will Rieger be hammering a pound of buffalo wings before every game now?

“Yeah, I’m going to have to see if they deliver,” he said.

Brad Schlossman (@SchlossmanGF) can be reached at BSchlossman@gfherald.com or (701) 780-1129.
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