GRAND FORKS, ND– On the 20th Anniversary weekend of the Ralph Engelstad Arena, the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks kicked off their season with a non-conference battle against the Niagara University Purple Eagles. In the “House That Ralph Built,” many family members were in attendance to celebrate the birthday of one of the best arenas in all of hockey. It was something that UND head coach Brad Berry stressed to the players before going onto the ice.
“We’re grateful and blessed to have this rink,” Berry said. “We mentioned that to our team– and I think that helped them– that the Engelstad family was here to see the gracious gift they gave us. I think our guys felt that and jumped out right away.”
North Dakota got things going early, as Ethan Frisch got his first of the year with a wrister from the point getting by Chad Veltri. Frisch was set up perfectly by Matteo Costantini, who was patient, keeping the puck in the zone and finding an open Frisch for the chance. UND continued to dictate the play, resulting in a couple offensive chances and then cashing in minutes later with Jake Schmaltz getting his first NCAA goal after Riese Gaber drove to the net and found a streaking Schmaltz for the tap-in. North Dakota continued to pace the play, holding Niagara to only three shots in the first. The offense didn’t let up, as Ashton Calder put home his first goal with the Fighting Hawks on the power play, picking up a Riese Gaber rebound and putting it past Veltri with under three minutes remaining. It was Calder’s first power play goal in over a calendar year.
“It’s nice, I mean, having me in that spot, obviously shoot and hopefully score goals. I do my best to do that every night,” Calder said after the game.
Niagara got an early power play, but the UND PK was strong again, keeping it away from the danger zones and allowing Zach Driscoll to see the puck clearly. North Dakota would strike in the first portion of the period, with Calder striking again after a shot went over the net and Jackson Kunz picked up the loose puck and found Calder just above the crease to put it behind Veltri and give the Hawks a 4-0 lead. With some back and forth play, Niagara had one big chance with Walker Sommer walking down the wing and across the crease, but Driscoll was able to stop him with the right pad. As the period wound down, Jake Sanderson got in on the scoring, getting a pass on the half-wall by Judd Caulfield and putting it near-side on Veltri to make it 5-0.
An early chance by Connor Ford, cutting through the defense, but Veltri was able to shoulder the puck away. The Fighting Hawks did have a bit of a rest, with Niagara getting some chances to Driscoll’s blocker side, but all were turned away. North Dakota got back in the goal column with Tyler Klevin getting a pass from Gaber and hammering it over the shoulder of Veltri to make it 6-0 and giving Gaber his third assist of the night. However, Niagara would get on the board, as Shane Ott picked up a Mike Faulkner rebound off the crossbar to make it 6-1. Just 51 seconds later, what looked like a Ryan Naumovski shot-pass deflected off of Frisch’s skate to make it 6-2, which is how the game would end.
These two teams meet again on Saturday night to close out their series.
THEY SAID IT
“We talk about it right at the beginning of the year. We talk about it going into the first series like this one right away. We don’t even look at them as non-conference, we look at them as NCHC games because they count just as much and they’re vital to making the National Tournament. So, whether we’re at home or on the road in non-conference play, we tell them to treat it like an NCHC game.”– Berry on the importance of the non-conference weekends.
“It was super cool. Playing with Riese (Gaber) and Judd (Caulfield) make it super easy for me. But just the play Riese made to take the guy wide, giving it to me backdoor, there’s not a lot for me to do, so shoutout to Riese for that.”– Schmaltz after this first NCAA goal.
“We got off to a good start. That was kind of our main focus was to come out early, get a lead, and build off that. There’s some room for improvement in the second period, but overall it was a pretty good game.”– Gaber on the first game of the season.