GRAND FORKS, ND– It has been a long time since the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks played in front of a full Ralph Engelstad Arena. With the weekend in Grand Forks being as busy as it was, The Ralph was packed with 11,812 fans happy to be in the arena and cheer on the Hawks. On a banner raising night to commemorate the NCHC Championship, the Fighting Hawks and their 14 new players took on the Bemidji State Beavers in their exhibition tune-up and took home a victory by a count of 2-1.
The game was initially supposed to be against the University of Manitoba, as most teams face USports teams from Canada for their exhibition games. Because of that, the NCAA allowed exhibition games against fellow NCAA teams if need be.
“This was a litmus test for us,” mentioned head coach Brad Berry. “Even though both teams might have a little rust tonight; the heaviness, the lack of time and space, you know, an intense college hockey game was thrown at us. There’s nothing that replaces that. We have a lot of areas to work on, but I’m glad we got to play against a very, very good opponent.”
“That’s a great team over there,” Jake Sanderson said of Bemidji State. “I saw that the schedule changed and I was pretty happy just to see where we stacked up against another good team. I was pretty pumped.”
It was a feeling out period for both teams, with North Dakota getting chances early on, but Michael Carr had some pretty solid saves from the Fighting Hawks attempts. Bemidji didn’t get a shot on goal until after halfway through the first, with North Dakota getting into the shooting lanes, as well as not giving the Beavers any time to set-up their offense. Bemidji did get plenty of chances after the halfway mark, including a breakaway that just got past Zach Driscoll, but couldn’t get past the left post to keep the game scoreless.
It didn’t take long for North Dakota to find the net in the second period, as an early power play for the Fighting Hawks yielded the first goal. The puck cycled around the zone and ended up on Riese Gaber’s stick, where he fired a wrister past Mattias Sholl to give UND the lead 2:30 into the frame. Bemidji would answer back moments later as a tic-tac-toe passing play from Lukas and Owen Sillinger ended with a Alex Ierullo goal to even the score. North Dakota seemed to be on their heels after that goal, with Bemidji working the puck around, but not getting many shots onto Driscoll.
Going in tied at one in the third, both teams were looking for any space they could. Bemidji’s forecheck was giving North Dakota fits, while maintaining pressure on net. Driscoll kept composure and kept the game knotted up, including stopping an Owen Sillinger breakaway attempt. Just past the halfway mark, Jake Sanderson took the game on his stick, going end-to-end and putting a shot five-hole on Gavin Enright to give the Hawks a 2-1 lead. While Bemidji pushed, the Fighting Hawks defense got in front of shots and clogged up the neutral zone on their way to the 2-1 victory.
“I just saw time and space,” Sanderson said of his goal. “The defense kind of backed off and I just took it.”
North Dakota starts their regular season off next weekend against Niagara University at home.
THEY SAID IT
“It was a weird experience for sure. I played three seasons in that program, so going out for warm-ups and seeing the Beaver jersey on the other side was a little weird. One the puck drops, you’re just playing hockey after that.”– Driscoll on playing his former school in his first game at North Dakota.
“I thought it was awesome. Haven’t played in over a year, but these guys made it easy for me. It’s a good group here, so it was awesome. I just gotta give credit to the team and my D partners for making it so easy for me. Kept it easy and simple.”– Chris Jandric on playing his first NCAA game in over a year.