North Dakota Thrills 'Home' Crowd in Reaching Final
by Timothy Boger/CHN Reporter
ST. PAUL, Minn. Ralph Engelstad Arena sits empty this weekend. The last home game was last weekend for the Fighting Sioux.
But here in St. Paul, a hotbed for North Dakota alumni, 15,008 fans – most clad in North Dakota’s Kelly green and white – created something of another home game for UND in their 4-3 victory over Colorado College at Xcel Energy Center.
“It was just like we were playing at the Ralph today,” Hobey Baker finalist Matt Frattin said.
The Sioux won 4-3 in easily the most exciting game of the tournament, in large part thanks to by far the biggest crowd yet to pass through the gates this weekend.
In many ways, it felt like it was another home game for the Sioux (29-8-3). Scott Hennan, a former public address announcer for the Sioux, announced the game. The Pride of the North Marching Band made the trip. And constantly, the cheers typically heard at the Ralph– such as “Hey! Go Sioux” –were prevalent too, even before the drop of the puck.
Then Danny Kristo — playing his first game since nearly seeing his career ended by repurcussions from frostbite — struck with an unassisted goal at 2:44 of the first period, and the crowd erupted even louder.
“We definitely got the crowd in and they were really loud for us,” Frattin said.
The crowd was into the game from start to finish, a stark contrast from the ambivalent crowd that watched Colorado College knock out Alaska-Anchorage Thursday night.
The game became one of the classic, gritty battles that have come to define the Final Five tournament.
“Obviously it’s a good atmosphere. It’s always is here at the Final Five,” said Chay Genoway.
Without Minnesota or Wisconsin in the mix — perhaps a portend of the impending Big Ten Hockey Conference announcement — it’s been a struggle thus far to fill an NHL-sized arena with the small fan bases of teams like Colorado College or Bemidji State. That is, until North Dakota showed up and provided what both coaches called the most entertaining game of the weekend.
“The pace of this game was excellent. It was one of the better games we’ve been involved in entertainment-wise throughout the year. It was quite an atmosphere.”
Colorado College coach Scott Owens thought so, too.
“It was a great Final Five atmosphere to play in,” Owens said. “Unbelievable. The North Dakota fan base should be complimented for the traveling, the energy, the spirit. It made this an unbelievable experience for our guys –and we haven’t been here in three years. It was an unbelievable experience. Never mind the quality of the game. I’m sure our guys will remember that for a long time.”
And since North Dakota advances to tomorrow’s WCHA Final Five title game against Denver, the finale to one of the most exciting weekends of the year for hockey fans will likely be just as exciting.
Certainly Frattin, who carried his team to victory with the game-winning goal and an assist on the tying goal, would prefer that. “Hopefully it’ll be like that tomorrow because it really got us going.”