I’ve taken over 40 hockey road trips over the past 17 seasons, and it seems to me that the contingent of UND fans traveling to road arenas and tournaments is growing larger all the time.
Nowhere is this more evident than at the conference tournament in the Twin Cities. Legions of Sioux fans used to descend on St. Paul and Xcel Energy Center every March, and this year they’ll be headed across the river to turn Target Center into yet another home weekend for the boys from Grand Forks.
It certainly helps that UND has won its first round series and advanced to the final weekend of the playoffs in each of the past twelve seasons. Despite the fact that half of those series went to a decisive Game 3, fans have grown accustomed to seeing the Green and White represented – first at the WCHA Final Five, and now at the NCHC Frozen Faceoff. With that expectation, many followers of North Dakota hockey have taken to buying their ticket packages well in advance rather than waiting to see if their team will be there and then scrambling to make arrangements with just a few days to spare.
In other words, the team’s consistency has created crowds.
It’s also rewarding as a fan to hear the players, coaches, and media members take notice and share their appreciation. Mark Schuttenhelm (writing for the Jamestown Sun) had this to say in his article about the February 2013 series in Omaha that featured an outdoor game on Saturday:
Coach Hakstol and many of the players were clearly moved by the fan support. A few quotes from the postgame press conferences … coach Hakstol called the fan turnout “phenomenal.” Danny Kristo called it “unbelievable,” “humbling,” and “felt like a home game.” Zane Gothberg described it as “absolutely incredible” and “something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.” Approximately 9,500 fans attended Friday night’s game in Omaha vs. UNO’s average home attendance of about 6,000. The attendance at Saturday’s outdoor game was 13,650. Those are some impressive numbers.
And more recently, here are a few tweets from current North Dakota players after Sunday night’s Game 3 victory over Colorado College:
Bryn Chyzyk @chyz21
Big win last night can’t wait to see the Sioux fans take over the Target center this weekend #rolltribe
Stephane Pattyn @GeneralPattyn28
Wow thank you for all the kind words everyone!! Huge win for our team. Can’t wait to see the sea of green at the Target Center! #sioux
Dillon Simpson @Simmer18
Thank you Grand Forks for four amazing years of playing in the Ralph. SEE YOU ALL IN MINNEAPOLIS!!
Another example of people taking notice comes from Denver University. The Pioneers players, coaches, and athletic department grew so weary of all of the green in their own rink that they implemented a ticket policy specifically designed to keep North Dakota fans out of Magness Arena. The short-lived, short-sighted rule only created more interest and excitement for the series in January of this year, and the UND fans did not disappoint.
In the “for what it’s worth” department, the NCHC could implement a ticket policy specifically designed to increase the number of Pioneers fans at Target Center this weekend (let’s say, for example, giving them all free ticket packages), and I think they’d get fewer than 100 takers on that offer. They just don’t show up.
The NCHC Frozen Faceoff needed North Dakota in the tournament. Not so much for this season, although it helps, but for the future. Many UND fans already had their ticket packages for this weekend, and would have attended regardless. But a conference tourney without the Green and White would have caused most fans to reconsider buying packages in advance for next season’s Faceoff. So North Dakota’s consistency helps the league, both now and in the future.
And to this point, here’s a view inside the Twitterverse from the past 16 hours (since UND’s Game 3 victory went in the books), illustrating the collective relief and celebration felt across the NCHC:
The Red Army @RedArmyUNO (UNO hockey’s Premier Fan Organization)
Well, at least the NCHC won’t be bankrupt after one year.
Shane Frederick @puckato (College Hockey writer for the Mankato Free Press)
And the giant “Whew!” you just heard was from the NCHC folks. North Dakota (and their fans) will be at Target Center next weekend.
Schlossman @SchlossmanGF (College Hockey writer for the Grand Forks Herald)
Guessing that the delay in the NCHC game time announcement is because officials at league/Target Center/CBS are doing jag bombs right now.
And to sum it up, here’s Chris Peters (The United States Of Hockey) commenting on this unique phenomenon:
If there’s one thing you can say about North Dakota hockey fans, they’re passionate. That passion makes UND’s among the best, if not the best traveling fan base in all of college hockey. That has occasionally made their away games seem a lot more like home.
And this weekend will mark yet another such occasion. It is indeed always a home game. See you all in Minneapolis!
Fans, now it’s your turn. What are your favorite road trip venues? Memories? What’s it like to be a part of a large, vocal road crowd? Please share your thoughts below, and thanks for reading!