UND walked out of Ralph Engelstad Arena with the Penrose Cup on Leap Day last year and it hasn't been back since.

It has been 329 days, the longest stretch without a home game in program history.

The Fighting Hawks are one of just five teams in the country who have played exclusively on the road this season. They played 10 in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference Pod in Omaha, two in Colorado Springs, Colo., and two in Denver.

On Saturday night, it ends.

UND will finally be back in The Ralph for the first time since beating Western Michigan on a Shane Pinto overtime goal to win the league on Feb. 29. The Fighting Hawks will take on Colorado College at 6:07 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

"There's a lot of excitement about it," UND senior defenseman Josh Rieger said. "I know the guys in the locker room have been talking about it since the start of the year, getting that first game in The Ralph. Now that it's finally here this weekend, it's going to be tough to compose ourselves. I know we just want to get back here and play in front of our fans. I know everyone is looking forward to it."

There will be up to 3,000 fans present (25 percent capacity), expected to be the largest crowd to attend a college hockey game this season.

However, the fact that tickets remained available Friday afternoon signaled that many fans either were not comfortable attending with the coronavirus pandemic still raging in the United States, even though North Dakota's COVID-19 numbers have dropped off from November's peak, or that the $69 price tag for upper-bowl tickets is too much.

The fact that UND will have fans, at all, is notable.

This weekend will mark the first time any member of the public will attend an NCHC game this season.

In addition to UND, Omaha will allow up to 1,500 and Minnesota Duluth will allow a limited number of students to attend.

Across the country, only one program has allowed more than Bowling Green's 300 fans to attend this season, according to College Hockey News. Alabama Huntsville has played two home games and had 1,124 and 1,228.

No fans have attended any of UND's 14 games this season.

"I'm definitely really excited to get back to playing here at The Ralph," UND forward Judd Caulfield said. "This will be the first time here in almost a year now and the first time in front of fans, so that will be awesome just to get out there again.

"I feel like it's definitely going to be different (having fans). It's a little weird playing in front of the fake crowd noises and stuff. It will be fun to have actual cheers and stuff when there are goals and big hits."

The fans will be spread out in a socially distanced seating chart in The Ralph, which has the second-largest capacity of any home building in college hockey at 11,643. Every other row will be blocked off and there will be empty seats between parties of two or four. Nobody will be allowed against the glass.

Fans will be required to wear their facemasks at all times unless they are sitting in their seats and actively drinking or eating food from the concession stands, which will be open.

"It's going to be a little bit different," Rieger said. "It's still not going to be the sold-out Ralph like we like, but anything is better than nothing. They're going to bring a lot of energy so we're going to try to go out and perform for them."

There will be a new banner hanging from the rafters, recognizing the 2020 Penrose Cup championship, the first won under the Fighting Hawk logo.

"We're grateful to be back here," UND coach Brad Berry said. "We haven't been here for a long time. It's going to be a little different in what that looks like. I know they'll be spread out, but it gives you a little more game-like atmosphere, I think. When you go into some of the venues and there's nobody in and piped in music and different things like that, that's one thing, but now you have the loud crowd experience. I think that helps. I think that helps both teams."

The only other teams that have yet to play at home are first-year program Long Island University, Maine, Sacred Heart and Arizona State, which won't play at home at all this season. Those teams have a combined record of 12-25-2 and none are ranked.

UND is 10-3-1, sitting in first place in the NCHC standings and ranked No. 3 nationally, but it has missed playing in Ralph Engelstad Arena. The Fighting Hawks are 20-1 in their last 21 home games.

"You can't rest on that," Berry said. "You have to make sure that you're prepared and playing the right way against very good NCHC competition. But our guys are excited about playing at home, especially our young guys who have never played here before. We'll obviously have limited fans but at least there will be some excitement there, knowing we'll be back at home.

"One of the things is, I know from coaching and playing in the NHL, is sometimes when you're gone a long time, that when you go home, it seems that sometimes you let off the gas a little bit. We can't do that. Knowing that, OK, we're playing at home, we've got our home building, we've got some fans. . . yeah, that's great, but we have to do our thing as far as having that road mentality coming home here."

Colorado College at No. 3 UND

When: 6:07 p.m. Saturday; 6:07 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Ralph Engelstad Arena.

TV: Midco Sports Network.

Stream: NCHC.tv.

Radio: The Fox (96.1 FM).

Of note: Up to 3,000 fans will be allowed to attend.