More than six hours into the epic UND-Minnesota Duluth game in last season's NCAA tournament, Jake Sanderson looked fresh.
He was still wheeling around defenders, zipping through them and generating scoring chances with the same frequency as he did in the game's opening period.
To anyone who witnessed his endurance and athleticism on that March night, this will be no surprise: Sanderson won the UND men's hockey team's annual Iron Man competition this fall.
The Iron Man is a series of nine tests that rate each player's strength and endurance.
Sanderson is the first sophomore to win it since Colton Poolman in 2017.
"It's not surprising as far as what he does to prepare and maintain his body during the season and pre- and postseason," UND coach Brad Berry said. "He's a guy who acts like a pro on and off the ice. His results in the Iron Man are a direct reflection in that. Playing another year (in college) and going from his freshman year to sophomore year, to see how his body has grown, to look at how his body developed from one year to the next. . . he came in as a strong body, but now you're seeing his body transform into a finely tuned athlete."
Sanderson, who was selected as an alternate captain last month, finished with 758 points out of a maximum 900.
Junior defenseman Ethan Frisch finished second with 696, followed by Connor Ford (670), Judd Caulfield (669) and rookie Jake Schmaltz (660).
A couple players who may have been candidates to finish in the top five, like senior Gavin Hain, were held out of select events for precautionary reasons as they recover from minor injuries. Berry said there's no need to worry, though. Hain is a full go at practice and is expected to be a key player for the Fighting Hawks when they open their season Oct. 2 with an exhibition game against Bemidji State.
The results of the Iron Man were encouraging for a few reasons.
First, the Fighting Hawks lost their top defensive pairing from last season to the NHL. Matt Kiersted signed with the Florida Panthers and Jacob Bernard-Docker signed with the Ottawa Senators.
Their top defensive pairing this season is expected to be the left-handed Sanderson and the right-handed Frisch, the top two finishers in Iron Man.
UND's coaching staff should be able to give Sanderson and Frisch extended minutes in games this season.
"It's kind of funny watching those two guys," Berry said. "They're a couple of guys who get here really early in the morning. They love playing together on the ice. I think they feed off of each other. Our whole group here pushes each other, but those two guys really push each other internally in our group."
Sanderson is of particular importance for UND.
The Whitefish, Mont., product and No. 5 overall NHL draft pick in 2020 by the Ottawa Senators, is widely expected to be the best player in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference this season.
He is coming off of an excellent freshman season, one in which he played in all situations for the NCHC regular-season and postseason champion Fighting Hawks. Sanderson won a gold medal with Team USA at the World Junior Championship over Christmas break and returned to the team as an even more dominant player down the stretch.
Sanderson finished the season with 15 points in 22 games and a plus-20 rating. He opted to return to UND for his sophomore season instead of signing with the Senators.
Another positive was the team's overall fitness level.
The final event is the mile run. All players are required to finish in under six minutes. If they don't, they have to run it again. This season, every player ran a sub six-minute mile on the first try.
"That's a barometer to make sure everyone is in really good shape," Berry said.
Rookie goaltender Jakob Hellsten won the mile, followed by Ashton Calder and Sanderson.
This was the first time UND held the Iron Man in two years. Last year's was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the unconventional training leading up to the season, which didn't start until December.
The nine events this year were the vertical jump, pull-ups, bench press, sled, 300-yard shuttle run, 4x4 on-ice skating test, pro test for agility, broad jump and the mile run.
Sanderson handled them just as he did the six-hour, 12-minute game that lasted five overtimes in the spring.
"It's one thing to accumulate and grow into your body and have that endurance," Berry said. "But he has that natural gift, too. Some guys are effortless skaters. Not only is he strong, but he has that effortless look as far as being efficient in how he skates and how he plays."
UND's Iron Man winners since 1995
2021 - Jake Sanderson, sophomore
2020 - None due to COVID-19 pandemic
2019 - Cole Smith, senior
2018 - Cole Smith, junior
2017 - Colton Poolman, sophomore
2016 - Cole Smith, freshman
2015 - Tucker Poolman, sophomore
2014 - Bryn Chyzyk, junior
2013 - Derek Rodwell, senior
2012 - Corban Knight, senior
2011 - Derek Rodwell, sophomore
2010 - Matt Frattin, senior
2009 - Chris VandeVelde, senior
2008 - Chay Genoway, junior
2007 - Chay Genoway, sophomore
2006 - Chris Porter, senior
2005 - Chris Porter, junior
2004 - Chris Porter, sophomore
2003 - Matt Jones, junior
2002 - Ryan Sofie, senior
2001 - Ryan Sofie, junior
2000 - Ryan Sofie, sophomore
1999 - Jason Ulmer, senior
1998 - Tom Philion, senior
1997 - Tom Philion, junior
1996 - Tom Philion, sophomore
1995 - Tom Philion, freshman