Editor's note: In this series, the Grand Forks Herald's veteran sports staff ranks its top five memorable games or moments. Herald sports reporter Brad Schlossman finishes his list with this No. 1 memorable event.
Anticipation had been building all season.
Fans knew, at the end, one of the highest-stakes home games in the history of UND hockey was coming.
Ralph Engelstad Arena was set to host an NCAA regional in March 2006. It would mark just the third time in the history of the program that it had an opportunity to play an NCAA tournament game at home. It was the first time in 19 years and the first time ever since moving into its nearly 12,000-seat arena.
The buzz increased as UND got hot at the end of the season and won the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Final Five. It didn't matter who got placed in the regional, it was going to be a once-in-a-generation event. But the Committee added to it by placing traditional powerhouses Minnesota and Michigan in Grand Forks, too.
The weekend was always going to be memorable. But one of the best parts of sports is when you head to the venue, you just never know what you're going to see.
On the night of March 24, 2006, a number of circumstances all lined up -- so many, in fact, that it's not even possible for the scenario to ever play out again.
It started with a game that nearly everyone thought would be a rout: No. 1 Minnesota vs. Holy Cross.
The Gophers were loaded. They had Ryan Potulny and Danny Irmen, the former Red River players who always seemed to light it up in The Ralph. They had Phil Kessel and Blake Wheeler on the second line. They had dynamic defensemen like Alex Goligoski, Chris Harrington and Mike Vannelli.
Holy Cross, meanwhile, had never won an NCAA tournament game. Holy Cross was such an unknown that head coach Paul Pearl wore his gigantic "team pass" around his neck on the bench during the game, so security would allow him to walk back and forth between the locker room and bench without trouble.
Virtually everyone assumed it would not only be a Gopher victory, but that it would be a blowout.
Of everyone I talked to that week, only one person legitimately thought Holy Cross could win: former UND goalie Jake Brandt. The day before the game, I ran into Brandt at a restaurant in town. I mentioned Minnesota will roll over Holy Cross, but I didn't know what to expect from UND-Michigan.
Brandt stopped me.
"Holy Cross can win," he deadpanned.
I scoffed, but Brandt said Minnesota's 8-7 loss in the WCHA Final Five semifinals a week earlier could play a bigger role than I thought.
"Trust me," he said. "If Holy Cross scores the first goal of the game, all bets are off. That 8-7 game, it doesn't leave a goalie's head. You can say the right thing all week. You can do the right thing. But trust me, I know from experience, it's in the back of his head. It doesn't leave you in a week."
Sure enough, Holy Cross scored the first goal of the game. Gopher goalie Kellen Briggs did play quite well -- he had no chance on the goals he allowed -- but perhaps the whole team lost a bit of confidence in the Final Five.
The roar of the crowd
The game went to overtime and ended when Tyler McGregor attempted a centering feed on a rush, only to have the puck pop back to him. Briggs had already moved over to play the pass and McGregor dumped it into the open net.
The Ralph, already abuzz in anticipation for the event, went crazy.
It marked the first time a No. 4 seed had ever beaten a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. And it just happened to occur at the venue of Minnesota's biggest rival, in front of a crowd that was already cranked up.
The roar of the crowd was deafening after the goal and lasted more than a minute.
Holy Cross' student radio announcers went crazy on the air with their game-winning goal call. They were sitting directly to my right, just two feet away. The Ralph was so loud that I had no idea they freaked out on the game-winning call until the school posted the clip on its website days later. I couldn't hear a word they said.
Down below, UND was in its locker room, waiting to play in the second game. When the players heard the thunderous roar, they all looked at each other, thinking, "No way." Forward Mike Prpich ran out of the locker room and looked onto the ice to verify what had happened. He ran back in the room and confirmed it to the team.
Our dressing room was shaking. You went out in the hallway to see what had happened. You came back in the room all giddy to tell us the news. I’ll never forget that moment— Ryan Duncan (@rduncan16) March 27, 2020
After Holy Cross and Minnesota left the ice, a "Let's Go Sioux" chant broke out. It's the loudest chant I've ever heard in a building in my life.
I remember exactly where I was standing when Holy Cross scored and then my most lasting memory of that night was the fans chanting “Let’s Go Sioux” as they prepared for the UND and Michigan game to follow. One of the most electric nights in the history of the Ralph for sure. https://t.co/XpePcN7r4t— Jody Hodgson (@JodyatREA) March 28, 2020
The crowd was always going to be electric for the UND-Michigan game, but having the Holy Cross-Minnesota upset happen in the moments before tipped everything over the edge.
It was the loudest place I've ever been, and I've been to NHL, NBA, NFL and MLB playoff games. I've been to a Michigan-Ohio State game at The Big House and other college football games at places such as The Swamp in Florida, The Horseshoe in Columbus and Lane Stadium at Virginia Tech.
None of those places exceeded the volume of The Ralph that night.
Fueled by the atmosphere, UND stormed Michigan from the start. Ryan Duncan scored five minutes into the game. T.J. Oshie scored less than three minutes later. Michigan didn't stand much of a chance after that.
Drew Stafford, Jonathan Toews and Travis Zajac also scored and UND won 5-1. The next night, UND beat Holy Cross to earn a trip to the Frozen Four.
The Ralph has had several electric, unforgettable nights since then. But none have topped that evening.
Considering the numerous circumstances that played into it, it's just impossible.
Herald Top 5 Lists
1. The Ralph's loudest evening