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UND hockey team makes Frozen Faceoff with no experience with St. Paul event

With the pandemic altering the conference tournament the past two seasons, no UND players have played in the Frozen Faceoff in St. Paul.

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The UND student section erupts in applause following the Fighting Hawks 2-1 victory over Colorado College in game two of the NCHC men's hockey quarterfinals series at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks on Saturday, March 12, 2022.
Nick Nelson / UND Athletics

GRAND FORKS — Whether it was the Final Five from the Western Collegiate Hockey Association days or the years of the Frozen Faceoff with the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, UND hockey fans have made the trek to the Twin Cities an annual pilgrimage over the years.

Whether it was in St. Paul at the Xcel Energy Center or the few years at the Target Center in Minneapolis, the end of the conference tournament became a tradition ingrained in the fan culture of UND hockey.

Yet when UND sealed a trip to this year's NCHC Frozen Faceoff at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul with a 2-1 win Saturday against Colorado College at Ralph Engelstad Arena, the Fighting Hawks had no players with experience in the Frozen Faceoff in the Twin Cities.

The last time UND played at the Frozen Faceoff at the Xcel Energy Center was St. Patrick's Day 2018, a 4-1 win over Minnesota Duluth in the third-place game.

In 2019, UND was bounced and swept by Denver in the NCHC quarterfinals in Denver.

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In 2020, the Frozen Faceoff was canceled amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2021, with the pandemic impacting a second season, UND's Ralph Engelstad Arena hosted the Frozen Faceoff and capped attendance at 3,000 fans.

Even UND goalie Zach Driscoll, a college hockey veteran now with stops at three college programs, hasn't been to the Frozen Faceoff. His 2017 season with St. Cloud State ended in the NCHC quarterfinals at the hands of UND in REA.

Driscoll was vital in UND sealing a spot in the Frozen Faceoff, as he faced a 6-on-4 for the final 2 minutes, 18 seconds of the game with Colorado College on a major-penalty power play and utilizing an extra attacker with a pulled goalie.

"Honestly, I don't have any experience with that, so it'll be something new," Driscoll said. "All of the guys are excited. I'll have a lot of family there as a Twin Cities kid.

"We're playing hockey in a good, fun atmosphere at the Xcel. I think guys are excited to get down there, get back to work and keep doing what we're doing."

Driscoll wasn't the only first-year transfer to lay it all on the line in the final moments against the Tigers. Bowling Green transfer Connor Ford, who has never won a conference title, sprawled on the ice in the final moments to blocks shots with the Tigers desperately searching for the game-tying goal. Ford was playing through an illness that kept him out of Friday's series opener.

UND has a reworked roster this season with 14 new players. Only seniors Mark Senden and Gavin Hain even had a chance to make the Frozen Faceoff with UND in the Twin Cities.

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Add juniors Ethan Frisch and Judd Caulfield and only a handful of players are experienced with UND hockey fan conference tournament tradition in general, outside of perhaps freshman Dane Montgomery, a Grand Forks native.

Players like freshman Matteo Costantini, who scored UND's first goal Saturday against Colorado College, will have his first taste of the event.

"We've got to take the positive out of this weekend and bring that to Minneapolis," Costantini said. "It's super exciting. It's my first time playing in that Frozen Faceoff so it's going to have a lot of juice from all the boys. We're looking to get business done over there."

Sophomore Riese Gaber, who scored UND's game-winning goal in the series finale, is also looking forward to his first Frozen Faceoff in St. Paul.

"It's another step in the right direction, and we're excited to get down there," Gaber said.

UND will play Western Michigan in the NCHC semifinals in St. Paul on Friday.

Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, tmiller@gfherald.com or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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